Comparison between peasant and misery short stories by Anton Chekhov Essay


Comparison between peasant and misery short stories by Anton Chekhov

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Anton Chekhov is the most celebrated author of the nineteenth century of Russian literature - Comparison between peasant and misery short stories by Anton Chekhov Essay introduction. He did short stories and playwright. His mother influenced much into his career as she was a storyteller who told stories to his children about her travel around Asia. Chekhov says that he got a talent from his father but the soul from his mother. Chekhov was overwhelmed by the situation in Far East in Sakhalin, Russia where he went visiting for three months. These were floggings, misappropriation of supplies and strained prostitution on women. At times he wrote “I felt that I saw before me the extreme limits of man’s humiliation.” (Hingley, 1976, p. 179)

Chekhov was motivated in his work by the obscurity of the children living in the harsh environment with their parents.  According to him, assistance and donation are not an answer but it’s the role of the government to finance humanitarian treatment of offenders. He was a medical and in many instances treated the sick and the poor for free. In his short story, peasants, he recalls the unhealthy and overcrowded living conditions. (Barnet & Burto, 1993, p.27)

The Body

            Chekhov’s short story “peasants” talks about Nikolay Tchikilydyeer who was a waiter in a hotel in Moscow and was taken ill where his legs went numb. He could no longer work. He spent all his savings and that of his wife on medication. With no work to do, he and his family decided to go back to the village. The poverty at the village was at its toll and life in the village was very different from the one in the city. In this short story, Chekhov expresses the unavoidable mass emigration from the villages where it was becoming increasingly difficult for Russian peasants population to earn a living. His writings talks about the darkest years in Stalinist Russia when the citizens experienced miserable lives. His writings expose a lamenting mood. He expresses the irrationality of the human condition and ensured that there was one level of irony in his writing. “Man will only become better when you make him see what he is like” Chekhov once said. (Hingley, 1976, p. 178)

Chekhov made his writings to be what his writers wanted to read. There is the theme of human isolation and he uses innovative approach to compose his stories which exposes his characteristic of fierce independence as a writer and he treasured freedom than anything else. For instance, people in the village are detached from the ones in the city and Nikolay and his family in the short story; peasants experience culture shock after they go back to their village. Chekhov is simple in his language use and mastered the use of verbal art. Chekhov probes the theme of absurdity and misfortune of human experience. The themes apply today as they applied then. The theme of poverty is portrayed in this story, where Nikolay can no longer afford the livelihood in the city and has to go back to the village where the description of the houses there describe more poverty. (Johnson, 1993, p.133)

Iona Potapov, a cab driver is the central character in Anton Chekhov’s short story “Misery.” Iona desperately looking for someone to listen to his afflictions, but everyone he comes in contact with deliberately ignores his badly-needed-to-tell-story by either turning away from him or falling asleep. He is surrounded by cold and depression. Iona is depressed and wants to speak to someone about his son’s death though no one is willing to listen to him. Mare is the only thing and animal in the story which is willing to pay attention to Iona. When Iona sits quietly, covered in snow that has lately fallen on him, his little mare which is described as “white and motionless too” sits besides him. Neither of the two cares about the progress, they are just seated, still frozen waiting. (Boynton, 1970, p.4)

Both Iona and the Mare behave the same and this is clear in the statement, “the sledge driver clicks to the horse, cranes his neck like a swan. The mare cranes her neck, too” In this story, despair and misery is the main theme. The story is set in an environment “the twilight of evening.” (30) The story portrays a picture that is dull, depressing, sludge and aged covering of all the surrounding area. “The familiar gray landscape” (30) is a clear indication that Iona is sorrows, he feels lonely and despaired. Iona is distressed to tell about his son’s death and how it has affected him. “He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died” (34) He prefers if it were him who is deceased rather than his youthful son. He says, “My son ought to be driving not I” (34) In this story we have the theme of individual isolation. Iona spends the whole of his life looking for fulfillment which makes him lonely because he doesn’t achieve the fulfillment and feels isolated by the fellow human beings. Anton Chekhov describes Iona’s extreme poverty. “Iona Patopov, the sledge driver, all is white like a ghost. He sits on the box without moving, bent as twice as the living body can bend.” (Boynton, 1970, p. 34)

The writer portrays the picture of a person who is feeling cold and in extreme poverty, not even to have enough clothes to protect his body. He bent to use his body to warm himself since the snow is falling over him. H e worked very hard in his life but the only thing that he owned was just a little mare and an old cap which according to the story, it was the worst in the all of Petersburg. He could even make enough money to pay for the oats. According to the text, he was so miserable such that if his misery were “to flow out, it would flood the whole world.” (109) Iona was not only miserable of material wealth, but he was also miserable in his soul and his heart. The story clearly indicates Iona’s miserable soul, “now the shades of the evening are falling… death has come in the wrong door… instead of coming for me, it went for my son.” The wife is now in “the damp earth.”(110) He feels lonesome because everybody has gone away from him. No one cares about the losses he has undergone and thus no one is concerned to talk to him neither listen to his stories. He starts doing things because it is a custom but not an obligation and doesn’t care what his passengers pay him. He feels that what he needs is not money but someone who can listen to him. He can only share his miseries with the little horse who understands Iona quite well.  It’s so ironical that a human being and an animal have close relationship than two human beings can have. Iona tells the horse all his loses while the little Mare listens and on her master’s hand. Anton Chekhov outlines the connection between Iona and the mare to portray Iona’s loneliness. (Reynolds & Stone, 1991, p.48)

            Both peasants and Misery short stories by Anton Chekhov have similar themes and portray characters that are lonely, miserable and isolated. The short stories portray a picture of the sufferings that people underwent in Russia and that no one cared about the others welfare. This in a broader perspective is depicted in many parts of the world today. The author’s chief interest is to draw attention to the picture of low income earners, the poor and the anguish they underwent. Based on the themes, the author views the world as a place where the rich oppresses the poor and a place where no one cares about the problems of his neighbor. As the saying goes, “everyone for himself and God for us all” are clearly portrayed in these short stories. (Barnet & Burto, 1993, p. 27)

The theme of poverty is clearly portrayed where Nikolay in the short story peasants is reduced to poverty after he becomes sick and loses his job and hence he must go back to the village. He is poor in his heart since even after he goes back to the village, no one seems to bother about his situation and thus no one has time to listen to his predicaments. On the other hand, Iona experiences poverty both materially and from the heart. We see him having to bend so that he can have warmth as the snow is falling on his back. He is wearing tattered clothes and also his cap is described as the worst in all of Petersburg. He is poor in his heart since he has no one to share his losses with apart from his little donkey. No one is ready to listen to his losses and sorrows. (Barnet & Burto, 1993, p. 28)

Chekhov talked about the indistinct delineation and realism of Russian life and the individual’s condition. His stories have dark irony, social clarification and imagery. The stories have a sympathetic atmosphere and are uncannily sensible. They have a inspirational power of art that changes the reader. He uses the same tone, approach or genre to express the predicaments of the people in Russia. For instance, in the short stories peasant and misery he depicts poverty and loneliness among the low class people in the society.  In his work, Chekhov shared the composed approach of a scientist and doctor with the compassion and mental understanding of an artist. He reveals the life in the Russian small towns, where tragic events occur in a minor key, as a part of everyday texture of life. He uses inert bystander characters to express their lives which are filled with despair and the unproductiveness of all efforts. His childhood was outlined by his father’s autocracy, spiritual commitment and the long nights in the store. He says “when I think back on my childhood… it all seems to me quite gloomy.” (Hingley, 1976, p. 179)


Anton Chekhov is a writer who uses different characters in his short stories to expose the predicaments that the people are going through. In his stories, he highlights major themes such as poverty and loneliness both from the heart and materially. He exposes the people as one who don’t care about their neighbor and everyone only cares about his/her own welfare. Even the loss of ones own son does not compel empathy from his friends or neighbors but rather from a mare animal which can only listen but does not talk or respond. It portrays a society where the people are selfish and where the rich exploit the poor. Instead of Nikolay receiving compensation or medical cover from his employer, he loses his job and is forced to use the only savings they had on his medication, and only left with the option of going back to the village with his family where life was cheaper. The two short stories illustrate the author’s goal of his writings i.e. social justice. Chekhov advocates for social justice among the people. The stories show that people do not exercise justice and this why an employer can afford to lay off a worker because he is sick and doesn’t compensate him considering the service he has offered in the work place when he was healthy. (Hingley, 1976, p. 180)

Reference list

Barnet S. & Burto W. (1993) An Introduction to Literature: HarperCollins College

 Publishers. ISBN 0673523306

Boynton John (1970) Anton Chekhov: International textbook publishers

Hingley Ronald (1976) a New Life of Anton Chekhov: Oxford Press Publishers.

 ISBN 0192117297

Johnson Ronald (1993) Anton Chekhov- A study of the short fiction: Twayne publishers.

 ISBN 0805783490

Kirk Irina (1981) Anton Chekhov: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0805764100

Reynolds R. & Stone J. (1991) On Doctoring: Simon & Schuster publishers. ISBN


Wilson Edmund (1999) Peasants and other stories by Anton Chekhov: New York Review

            of Books publishers. ISBN 0940322145

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