A Comparison of Gogol’s Short Novel “The Overcoat” and James Joyce’s Short Story “Araby”

A Comparison of Gogol’s Short Novel “The Overcoat” and James Joyce’s Short Story “Araby”

“…in a certain department there was a certain official—not a very high one, it must be allowed —short of stature, somewhat pock-marked, red-haired, and short-sighted, with a bald forehead, wrinkled cheeks, and a complexion of the kind known as sanguine.”

The Overcoat and Other Stories, Nikolai Gogol

Looking at James Joyce’s “Araby”, we can see it also begins with descriptions. However, it is not clear what it describes. Although the story is written in a first-person narrative, the narrator of the first paragraph is unclear.

“North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbors in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.”1

Following the first paragraph, it is then we can be sure that the narrator is the main character of the story. But it is still uncertain if the character lives on the “North Richmond Street” and if he attends to the “Christian Brothers’ School” because the description lacks pronouns.

This fog of information continues until the end of the story. While the seemingly insignificant characters have names, like the narrator’s friend Mangan or Mrs. Mercer, more important characters do not have names. Apart from character names, the names of the places are also clouded. If we read the story as a single piece, taken away from the Dubliners, we never know where the story takes place. The places in the story are only revealed in streets, stations, and cafe names, and never as a city or country.

In Gogol’s “The Overcoat”, the setting is clearly visible. Akakiy Akakievich lives in St. Petersburg, is a perpetual titular councilor and his tailor’s name is Petrovich. We are aware of his treatment by his comrades and are provided with more information regarding the life in St. Petersburg. “The Overcoat”s strong structure and the plot is constantly supported with descriptions. Every description has a duty in forming a solid story.

In “Araby”, on the other hand, descriptions are made to set the mood, while the plot is left on the background. In the second paragraph, details are given about the dead priest, however, we do not see the effect of those details immediately.

Treatment of Alienation

Alienation is defined as emotional isolation or dissociation from others which can be the result of many different elements.2 The theme of alienation in literature is often seen in modern literature and is gaining more popularity in the 21stcentury with the increasing change in our lifestyles.

Alienation is a prominent theme in “The Overcoat”. Every element that adds to this theme is clearly seen. From birth, we can see that Akakiy was doomed to be a stranger.

“They christened the child, whereat he wept and made a grimace, as though he foresaw that he was to be a titular councilor.”3 Akakiy Akakievich is alienated by almost everything around him. The bureaucracy in Czarist Russia, his social status, and his character make it impossible for him to be visible. Only after he gets a brand new overcoat can he become visible by the others, which also brings his end.

In the short story “Araby” of James Joyce, the main character is somehow alienated from the outer world by himself.

“What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.”4

It is almost as if he made a choice to alienate himself as an escape from reality. During the short course of his story, James Joyce created a grey scene, in which nothing “fun” or “exciting” happened. And although we can see that the boy has a social life as he says; “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.”, it is clear that the boy is looking for an exciting adventure and becomes over-excited when Mangan’s sister talks to him.

  1. Dubliners, James Joyce, Penguin Classics
  2. Theme of Alienation in Literature, Bartleby.com
  3. The Overcoat and Other Stories, Nikolai Gogol, Digireads.com Publishing
  4. Dubliners, James Joyce, Penguin Classics