Chekhov, Anton P.
|Keywords||Adolescence, Family Relationships, Father-Daughter Relationship, Father-Son Relationship, Freedom, Human Worth, Individuality, Love, Marital Discord, Ordinary Life, Society, Survival, Tuberculosis|
This tale is subtitled, "A Provincial’s Story." The narrator is Misail Poloznev, who lives in a provincial town with his father, an uninspired architect, and his sister, Cleopatra. Misail has no interest in the standard, clerical-type employment of gentlemen, but wishes to earn his living by manual labor. This is outrageous! It is totally immoral for a gentleman to cross the line and act like a common workman. When Misail goes to work for Radish the painter and contractor, his father first has the local governor warn the young man that he had better shape up or the genteel community will make him an outcast; when Misail persists, his father disowns him.
Misail’s friend, Dr. Blagovo, is a physician who articulates the beliefs of many of Russian intellectuals: "In this land of ours cultural life hasn’t even begun. There’s that same savagery that existed five hundred years ago." Through Dr. Blagovo, Misail meets Masha Dolzhikov, the engineer’s daughter. By falling in love with the idea of working the land and helping the peasants, she falls in love with and marries Misail, who embodies her ideal. They move to the country and try to farm, but the peasants cheat them. Masha tries to start a school for peasant children, but the peasants sabotage her plan. Finally, she gives up and moves to Petersburg, eventually asking Misail for a divorce.
Meanwhile, Cleopatra has fallen in love with Dr. Blagovo, who gets her pregnant and leaves. The outcast brother and sister then live together, until Cleopatra dies of tuberculosis after having the baby. Years later, Misail continues his principled career as a workman and cares for his orphaned niece.
|Commentary||This is one of Chekhov’s longer tales (about 100 pages) and draws its setting from Chekhov’s home town of Taganrog. It describes a young man’s life as he comes of age and develops a mature character. The story contrasts the hypocrisy of the upper class, who believe that manual labor is demeaning, but who are also morally corrupt, with Misail’s gradual development of an authentic personal commitment to the simple life. Dr. Blagovo provides the intellectual alternative: he talks about improving the lot of the peasants, but doesn’t do anything. Masha, on the other hand, embraces the peasant life with great enthusiasm, but soon tires of it.|
|Source||The Party and Other Stories|
|Place Published||New York|
|Miscellaneous||First published: 1896. Translated by Ronald Wilks.|
|Annotated by||Coulehan, Jack|
|Date of Entry||08/13/96|