Gogol’s "The Overcoat" and Lacanian Psychoanalysis

In Gogol’s story The Overcoat, there are two significant scenes which may be considered as repetition of structure. The first event takes place after Akaky Akakievich leaves the party which was prepared for his sake in his friend’s house. While Akaky wanders through the deserted streets, two men with moustaches come upon and steal his new overcoat. After they run away Akaky sees a policeman nearby who may have seen the theft as Akaky supposed. According to the author, “the policeman had seen nothing, except for two men who had stopped him in the middle of the square and whom he had taken for his friends…”. On the other hand the second event takes place after Important Person leaves his friends home party. After he orders his driver to ride to Karolina Ivanova’s place Akaky’s comes by and steals the overcoat of Important Person addressing to him words of revenge.
Jacques Lacan begins discussion of Poe’s story The Purloined Letter while talking about Beyond the Pleasure Principle of Freud who formulates the death instinct by repetition compulsion. For Freud, mind’s unconscious desire of death brings along desire to repeat; desire to return to the original equilibrium before birth. Lacan also begins his discussion with this formulation where he uses the idea of repetition compulsion in Poe’s story. For him, there was a repetition compulsion in the narrative in which two scenes are repeating certain structures. Additionally, story was not just about positioning of the subject but it is about how the letter keeps returning by the repetition of structure. Thus Lacan concludes that “It’s the insistence of signifier in signifying chain and that’s compulsion to repeat.” The letter in Poe’s story is a signifier which empowers the one who has it.
The relation between the signifier and the owner is slightly different in Gogol’s story. In the first scene in which two men with moustaches steal Akaky’s overcoat, there is no available information about whether thieves become more powerful or not. At this point the movement of the overcoat represents not the empowerment of the one who has it but powerlessness of the one who loses it. After Akaky’s overcoat was stolen, he was deeply upset and depressed and after some time he died. Similarly after the second event took place, Important Person was horrified and he immediately gave up his sexual desire (he was going to meet Karolina Ivanova) and decided to go home where he may feel more safe and secure. Furthermore, there is one other component of this kind of structure in the two events which is the observer as the third person. In the first scene, theft happens between two men with mustaches and Akaky, while the policeman is witnessing, although he reveals that he could merely see the event and was not sure that it was a theft. In the second scene, the third person, who was supposed to see Akaky and Important Person, is unknown. There is the driver of Important Person but there is no evidence in story that he saw what happened between Important Person and Akaky. Here the third person might be the reader – the analyzer of the structure – position of psychoanalyst. In the first scene, the function of the policeman as the third person was to provide a consistent continuity to the story. He advises Akaky to see the Police inspector the next day. Akaky’s search of hope in bureaucratic departments results in conversation between him and Important Person which then leads him to his death. At this point, the existence of policeman in the first scene is the element which in fact enables the second scene to evolve and happen. The policeman is the person who leads Akaky towards Important Person indirectly. Akaky accuses the policeman for neglecting his duty by falling asleep and not seeing the theft. The short conversation between Akaky and Policeman seems like a patient – doctor relation, in which a kind of transference occurs and also in the end Akaky’s view point and story’s continuity is reestablished. Therefore the policeman is the analyst of both Akaky and the story in general. Similarly, in the second scene the analyst – reader is in the position of the policeman by the way of which s/he reveals the relations between characters and story and establishes a kind of structure in relation to them.
In the story the author also refers to micro-level – several other structures which include repetitions within themselves. Akaky’s father, grandfather and his brother-in-law and all the other Bashmachkins used to wear boots, instead of shoes and they “had them soled only three times a year.” When Akaky was born, his elders look at pages of calendar to find suitable names for Akaky, but they cannot find one. After all they decide to call him after his father. Later the story says: “The child was christened and during the ceremony he burst into tears and made such a face it was plain that he knew there and then what he was fated to be a titular councilor.” Akaky has his father’s name and in his ordinary everyday-desexualized life he is doing the same actions all the time; copying the letters, and “he worked with love” In this sense, Akaky’s job is what he substitutes for his unachievable – postponed sexual desires. Meanwhile the author says that “Only if a horse’s muzzle appeared from out of nowhere … – only then did he realize he was not in the middle of a sentence but in the middle of the street”. In this respect it is important to conclude that Akaky is a person who lives between the real and the artificial, everyday experiences and imagination and whose story ends in fantastic fashion as the author emphasizes through the end. Furthermore he is desexualized and postponing his desires continuously by constant symbolization.
On the other hand, after Akaky wears his new overcoat, his sexual desires come out to surface. In one scene, he stares at a painting in which a half naked girl stands and smiles. He feels himself good somehow. In one another part, author says “from that time onwards his whole life seemed to have become richer, as though he had married and another human being was by his side. It was as if he was not alone at all but had some pleasant companion who had agreed to thread life’s path together with him…” This expression which seems more like a marriage oath is actually depicting the revival of Akaky’s postponed sexual desires. After he wears the new overcoat, he doesn’t pay that much attention to his regular typing work; the symbolization is now over with the new overcoat: he acts as if he is in the imaginary register and experiencing mirror stage: With the new overcoat he feels himself as a whole like he has never felt before. Certainly what makes the overcoat significant is its newness. The men with mustaches are significant in the way that their masculinity (mustache) represents the authority of the father which has the role to lead the infant to pass into symbolic from imaginary register. The word “new” is significantly emphasized in the story, pointing at the transportation of the self from the symbolic to the imaginary, and later on helping to construct repetition of structure later in the story which I mentioned before.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s