Literature Annotations


Chekhov, Anton P.
Kashtanka


On-Line Text
Genre Short Story (30 pp.)
KeywordsAbandonment, Adoption, Domestic Violence, Family Relationships, Freedom, Individuality, Loneliness, Narrative as Method, Power Relations, Survival
Summary

The dog Kashtanka belongs to a drunken carpenter who takes her out one day, but on the way home loses her in the confusion of a military parade. The story is told by an omniscient narrator who privileges Kashtanka's point of view, so we follow the dog's subsequent adventures largely from her eyes.

After spending a frightening night in the street, Kashtanka is rescued by a kind man who feeds her and takes her into his home, which turns out to be a strange menagerie. The rescuer happens to run a traveling animal show, in which the star performers are a goose named Ivan Ivanitch and a cat by the name of Fyodor Timofeyitch. Kashtanka's new master renames her "Auntie" and sets about training her to perform in his act.

"Auntie" thoroughly enjoys her new surroundings. Her master is kind, there is plenty of food and love; and "Auntie" gets along well with the other animals. However, one day the carpenter and his son attend the show and see "Auntie" performing. They instantly recognize her and call out, "Kashtanka!" Kashtanka drops her "Auntie" persona and follows them home, as the pleasures of her interlude with her new master rapidly fade from memory.

Commentary

What sort of a story is this? At one level Chekhov seems to have written a straightforward animal tale. But what is the message? Kashtanka lives in precarious surroundings, with a drunken master and the ever-present possibility that she'll be beaten or neglected. Suddenly, she finds herself living the good life; insofar as canine ideals go, she's hit the jackpot. However, she rejects the good life as soon as her original master calls. What's the point?

One interpretation is that the carpenter represents the natural decent values (family values?) of the Russian peasant, while the circus performer represents materialism and artificiality. In this reading the return home is a victory for the good. Alternatively, the drunken carpenter may represent the ignorant and brutish lifestyle of the Russian peasant, while the new master stands for the civilizing influence of new ideas. When Kashtanka returns home, old habits win out over more progressive values. Based on Chekhov's objective to state the problem, rather than provide answers in his work, I suspect that the opposing interpretations may be equally valid--Kashtanka both wins and loses by slavishly reverting to her past life.

SourceThe Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 12: The Cooks Wife and Other Stories
PublisherEcco
Edition1986
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousFirst published: 1887. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 05/10/03
Last Revised 06/01/03