“The Overcoat” by Sally Benson Summary

“The Overcoat” is a short story by Sally Benson published in 1935. It’s about a married woman who’s annoyed that she never has enough money when she’s out with her friends. Here’ a summary of “The Overcoat”.

“The Overcoat” by Sally Benson Summary

Mrs. Bishop leaves the Milligans’ after having a bit too much to eat. She has less than a dollar in her purse; it’s not enough to get a taxi home from Tenth Street to Seventy-third. She starts walking for the subway.

She feels sorry for herself, having assumed when she was younger that she would have lots of money one day. Her bridge friend, Lila Hardy, always has plenty on her. Many people don’t have a lot and have lost money, but it’s worse to have never had any.

She always puts the household expenses on credit. She decides to ask for an allowance from Robert so she’ll know what she has. He always seems to have some money.

The Overcoat by Sally Benson Summary
“The Overcoat” by Sally Benson Summary

On the subway, Mrs. Bishop sits near the door. At Eighteenth Street, a tall, thin man in a well-worn overcoat gets on and stands in front of her. One of his hands is dirty, and he occasionally coughs silently. She imagines him with a white-collar job holding a pencil, working to support a large family and unhelpful wife. He probably doesn’t spend money on himself. The cuff of his overcoat is badly worn and part of the lining hangs down.

Mrs. Bishop feels sympathy for him and plans on smiling at him when she gets up. By the time the subway reaches Seventy-Second Street, her worries and the smell of the wet coat have dulled her feelings a bit. She smiles weakly and he looks away embarrassed.

“The Overcoat” Summary of Part II

Maude, the maid, sets the table in the hot apartment. Her neat uniform doesn’t look right. Mrs. Bishop is disgusted to see Robert lying on the couch with the newspaper over his face. He used to dress up for dinner and make her a cocktail; life was almost the way she imagined it would be.

Mrs. Bishop roughly opens a window, complaining of the lack of air. She let’s Robert know she had to take the subway home because she didn’t have enough money. He takes some bills out of his pocket and gives her five dollars.

She tells him she never has money and wants an allowance. Robert says he gives her money when she asks for it, and if she had it all at once she’d spend it too fast. Mrs. Bishop resents being treated like a child, and won’t be embarrassed any more by not having money on her.

Robert asks how much. She thinks fifty dollars a month is the minimum. Her bridge friend, Lila Hardy, would laugh at fifty a month. Robert says this month is tight, but he should be able to manage fifty for the first of next month. She agrees, not wanting to risk a refusal.

Going to the closet, Mrs. Bishop sees Robert’s overcoat hanging over the back of a chair. The cuff is badly worn and part of the lining hangs down—just like the sleeve from the subway. She gets a horrible sinking feeling.

I hope this summary of “The Overcoat” by Sally Benson was helpful.