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The Wikipedia page about Gogol's short story "The Overcoat" is full of [citation needed] notices. The following sentence in particular caught my eye:

A Marxist reading of the text would interpret Akaky's material desire as granting him humanity.

That certainly seems to be a valid interpretation of the story - Akaky had almost no life in him before his connection with and desire for the titular overcoat made him more human. But what does this have to do with Marxism? Perhaps this sentence in Wikipedia refers to a particular critic's interpretation. So my question is as follows.

Has anyone published a "Marxist reading" of this story? If yes, what did it say - did it put particular emphasis on Akaky's "material desire granting him humanity" and link this somehow with Marxism? If not, what would a "Marxist reading" look like, and how would the Marxist view of material desire affect the interpretation of the story?

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A Marxist reading of Gogol's "The Overcoat" would focus on the exploitative class structures that are in play throughout the story. The protagonist, Akaky Bashmachkin, is an impoverished clerk who has to spend most of his meager salary just to put food on the table for himself and perhaps a few other members of society; as such, he can rarely afford anything else (such as new clothes). This highlights how bourgeois-capitalist societies were structured at this time so that everyone except those with money or status was denied basic needs and rights; despite working hard all day long for little pay, Akaky had no hope whatsoever when it came to seeking material betterment.

This is further explored by examining what happens once he succeeds in acquiring enough funds through extreme parsimony over years, which finally allows him to purchase a richly crafted overcoat—suddenly we see people treat him differently than they did before, simply because now they perceive only value based upon outward appearances rather than any inherent human worth or dignity shown due to being part of the same species as them: "they [others] respected His Excellency," i.e., believed he could control/command people, even though previously going unrecognized, but provided nothing substantive showing personhood inside, remarkably became a "man of consequence,"

Therefore, a Marxist reading would conclude that Gogol is attempting to demonstrate how in capitalist societies, access to material possessions (in this case, the overcoat) gives an individual worth and power regardless of their other abilities or characteristics, but ultimately what matters most pertains to internal virtue, not extrinsic objects, because a person "becomes human" when they display decency within, and culture-filled oppressive authority hierarchical systems that actively deny fair representation rights to poor people, who are seen solely as labor commodities, are exploited by those privileged enough to obtain wealth and resources elsewhere, are In other words, despite the importance of material possessions to Akaky's newfound significance and humanity, it is ultimately his fundamental decency as a human being that allows him to maintain that respect and dignity.

Ultimately, the Marxist reading of "The Overcoat" serves as a powerful exposition of capitalist class structures and how they can be used to dehumanize those without power or privilege in society. By showing us the story through Akaky's plight and ultimate fortitude—that ultimately it is our humanity that gives us strength—Gogol draws attention to these oppressive systems while also offering hope for justice in spite of all the social challenges we may encounter along the way.

So, a Marxist reading of "The Overcoat" would focus on the exploitative class structures that are in play throughout the story and how Akaky's humanity is ultimately what gives him strength, despite all the social challenges he may encounter along his journey. Additionally, it emphasizes how access to material possessions can give an individual worth and power regardless of their other abilities or characteristics, but ultimately what matters most pertains to internal virtue, not extrinsic objects, because a person "becomes human" when they display decency within oppressive systems that actively deny rights to workers and poor people, who are seen solely as commodities for exploitation and profit by those privileged enough to possess the resources and entitlements to obtain them elsewhere.

In conclusion, a Marxist reading of Gogol's "The Overcoat" would highlight the exploitative class structures at play in capitalist societies and how they can be used to dehumanize those without power or privilege. It shows us that ultimately, it is our own humanity that gives us strength over oppressive systems—not material possessions alone, but rather our internal virtue and decency as human beings. What matters most is for us to display these qualities in our lives, regardless of the social challenges we may encounter along the way.

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    Nice answer but if you could make it a little more concise would be great. Seems like there are good key points but a little bit of redundancy. Would be great if you could sharpen it a bit. Thanks! :) Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 0:53

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