A Malefactor By Anton Chekov
Summary of A Malefactor
A Malefactor is a very short story written by Anton Chekov. Denis Grigoryev, an “ exceedingly lean little peasant in a striped hempen shirt and patched drawers” is brought before the magistrate to stand trial. His crime is that Ivan Semyonovich Akinfov, a railway watchman, saw him engaged in removing a fastening nut from the railway line. The description given by Denis Chekov is of a poor man, hardly presentable, who occasionally removes nuts from the railway line to put them into the weight used in the fishing line. The poor peasant is innocent to the point of accepting the ‘crime’ unmindful of the repercussions, and the reader is amused to go through the Q&A sequence between the accused and the magistrate. In common case law, the admission of a crime by an accused is ground enough to order his punishment under the Law of the Land, without requiring any detailed procedure to be followed, but in this case, the court appears to be incomplete. After a brief summary of the proceedings, Denis is sent to prison as a punishment, although there are other accomplices named after him. As a result, no argument or plea made by him prevails.
Even to a layman, removing a nut from a railway line that could lead to accidents and the deaths of many innocent passengers is a crime that should not go unpunished. In the course of the trial, the defendant Denis refers to “We people……the peasants of Klimovo, that is,” which shows that, besides him, many others are engaged in the same criminal activity. The ends of justice would only be fully met if they were also brought up and made to face the consequences. Besides, all those who use weights made of nuts are equally answerable as they are not ignorant as to where the iron comes from to make them. The story, which is probably a depiction of a real-life incident raises many questions and reflects upon the Justice system prevailing at the time.
The message put forward by the story is that justice should not only be done but should also seem to have been done.
Questions and Answers
A. Read the lines and answer the questions. (factual, inferential and multiple-choice questions)
A. ‘… Ivan Akinfov, the railroad watchman, found you
1. Whom did Akinfov find and when did he find the person?
Ans:- Akinfov found a tiny, very thin little peasant named Denis Grigoryev. He found Denis Grigoryev when he was patrolling the railway track on the seventh of July.
2. What was the person doing when he was found?
Ans:- He was unscrewing one of the nuts that fasten the rails to the ties when Akinfov found him.
3. Who says these words and what is his role in the matter?
Ans:- The magistrate says these words. His role in the matter is questioning the accused, Denis Grigoryev and as per the answer he decides his involvement in the crime.
B. ‘What a fool he is pretending to be!
a. Who says these words?
Ans:- The magistrate says these words.
b. Who is being spoken about?
Ans. Denis Grigoryev is being spoken about.
Q. Was the person in question pretending to be a fool or was he really a fool?Substantiate your answer.
Ans:- The person in question Denis Grigoryev was really a fool. His words that he had unscrewed the nuts to make sinkers as if there was nothing wrong in it and he also left some nuts unscrewed for the train to run are really some kind of foolish assertion.
C. ‘One ought to judge first and drag afterwards.’
a. Who says these words to whom?
Ans:- a. Denis Grigoryev, the peasant, says these words to the magistrate.
b. In what context does he say these words?
Ans:- He says this on angered by the railroad watchman Ivan Akinfov action of grabbing him by the coat collar and dragging him away notwithstanding his ignorance of being a peasant in contrast to the magistrates education and his knowledge on matters in this regard.
d. ‘Can I go?’ What do these words say about Denis?
a. Denis thought he was innocent.
b. Denis did not think the interview with the magistrate was important.
c. Denis was in a hurry to go home.
Ans:- b. Denis did not think the interview with the magistrate was important.
Factual and Inferential Questions
4. Answer these questions in 30-40 words.
Q. Why was Denis Grigoryev standing in front of the examining magistrate?
Ans:- While patrolling the track Ivan Akinfov, the railroad watchman, found Denis Grigoryev, at the one hundred and forty-first mile unscrewing one of the nuts that fastened the rails to the ties. The watchman grabbed him and dragged away and produced before the magistrate. Now was standing in front of the examining magistrate to answer the question whether the charge leveled against was true or not.
Q. Of what use were the nuts to the peasants of Klimov?
Ans:- The peasants of Klimov used nuts to make sinkers for their fishing lines. The nuts were the most convenient things used as weight in order to sink to the bottom when they baited their hook with a shiner or a roach. Nuts were better than any other sinkers be-cause they were heavy and have a hole in them.
Q. List the seven kinds of fish named in the story. Was there any’ real relevance of fishing to the conversation?
Ans:- The seven kinds of named in the story are roach, bass, pike, eels, garfish, gudgeons and perch. As far as Denis was concerned, he had to talk about the fish and fishing in order to justify his stand with regard to the use of sinkers made with the nuts unscrewed from the rails. This is because the nuts were the most convenient things used to make weights and without which the fish mentioned above could not be caught. So there was a real relevance of fishing to the conversation for connecting with the purpose of stealing nuts.
Q. Did the peasants know what might have happened if the nuts were taken?
Ans:- The peasants were uneducated to think the serious consequences of unscrewing nuts from the rails. This can be understood from Denis argument that they did not unscrew all the nuts but left some. Also, unscrewing nuts gift paper poshkar Sharma not like taking away a railway or putting a log across the track which might derail a train. They had been committing this crime for a number of years but did not see an accident. Therefore they did not know what might have happened if the nuts were taken.
Q. How do we know that it was not the first time a nut had been taken from the tracks?
Ans:- The words of Denis speak volumes for the fact that it was not the first time that a nut had been taken from the tracks. He said that the whole village had been unscrewing nuts for many years. When Denis house was searched a nut was found lying under a little red chest. But Denis claimed that it had been given to him by Ignashka, the son of a one-eyed Simon. Then he admitted that the nut that was in the sleigh was unscrewed by him along with Mitrofan who made fishing nets and sold them. Mitrofan needed a dozen nuts to every net.
Q. What does the magistrate say had happened as a result of the nuts being removed? Does Denis understand the implications of the magistrate’s comment?
Ans:- As a result of the nuts being removed a train ran off the track a year ago. No, Denis doesn’t understand the implications of the magistrate comment. When the magistrate explains the tragedy that might happen due to removal of nuts, Denis defends himself foolishly saying that they did not unscrew all the nuts, but always left some so that no accident would happen. When he was pointed out about an accident, he digressed saying that the magistrate knew those things because he was educated.
Q. Why do you think Denis tells the magistrate the details of the other nuts? Does this prove his honesty or his ignorance of the serious nature of his crime?
Ans:- I think that Denis tells the magistrate the details of the other nuts because he wants to convince him that they needed nuts necessarily and so far in their knowledge, no rail accident happened owing to their unscrewing of nuts.
This proves both his honesty and the ignorance of the serious nature of his crime.
Q. Did Denis expect to be punished? Substantiate your answer with examples.
Ans:- Denis did not expect to be punished. When he finished his talking about the reason for unscrewing nuts and how he used it for making sinkers, he expressed his wish to go. He asked the magistrate whether he could go. When the magistrate told him that he would be arrested and sent to jail, Denis said that he had no time, he had to go to the fair to collect the three roubles that one Gregory owed him for fallow. These words are examples to show that he did not expect to be punished.
C. Think and answer in 100-150 words.
1. Describe the character and appearance of Denis Grigoryev. Was he really a malefactor? Justify.
Ans:- Denis Grigoryev was a tiny and very thin little peasant. Fie were a striped shirt and patched trousers. His beard was shaggy and his face was pock-marked. His eyes were scarcely visible under their bushy; overhanging brows which gave him a harsh and forbidding expression, to which a mane of matted, unkempt hair added a spider-like ferocity. He was barefoot, Denis is a simpleton. He is not aware of the threat to people’s lives that unscrewing nuts from the rails could cause. He is more concerned about personal gains and defends himself of his crime by finding refuge in his lack of education. In that case, he is a pretender to a certain extend. He is selfish as well as harmful in his intentions, though he resorts to it unknowingly. To sum up, we can say that he is ready a fool strengthened by his stubbornness.
2. Do you think the magistrate’s sentence was too harsh, or did Denis Grigoryev deserve it? Answer with reasons.
Ans:- I don’t think the magistrate is sentence was too harsh. When we consider the seriousness of the crime he had committed though he was a simpleton, he deserved it. The charge levelled against him by the magistrate was that he had unscrewed one of the nuts that fastened the rails to the ties and that was found by Ivan Akinov, the railroad watchman. Denis was then produced before the magistrate for cross-questioning. Knowingly or unknowingly, he was found unserious about the consequences of his reckless action. He answers the magistrate’s questions defiantly. When the magistrate asked him why he needed the nut, he gave a long lecture on why the peasants of Klimov unscrewed railroad nuts giving out a list of the names of fishes and how the weights made with the nuts suit to their fishing activities disregarding the magistrate’s intervention to stop talking about the fishes. He gives a contemptuous reply to the magistrate’s question whether he needed the nut for using as a weight. When the magistrate pointed out the possible railroad accident and killing of people in the tragedy, he defended himself saying that they always left some nuts unscrewed for safety. He also pretended lack of education for his wrongdoing. As such Denis Grigoryev certainly described a prison life.
3. What was Article 1081 of the Code? What was the difference in the magistrate’s understanding of the article and the peasant’s understanding?
Ans:- Article 1081 is a penal code. According to it, “Whoever intentionally commits an act of injury to a railroad, whereby an accident might result to the trains, and who knows that such an accident might result shall be severely punished.” And the sentence is exile and hard labour. But Denis understanding of the article was different. He said that such things as the Article 1081 were not meant for uneducated or illiterate people. He thought that Article had something to do with catching fish with or without a sinker. He thought that such a law would be forbidding the catching of fish using a sinker which they used to make with railroad nuts.
4. Does the story make you feel that the poor do not get justice? Justify with reasons.
Ans:- It is not that the poor do not get justice. But the problem lies in the fact that the government mechanism or the judiciary utterly fails to make its provisions and executions understand the illiterate. Laws are common for everybody. But only the educated class are aware of their system of functioning. Due to the ignorance, the poor and the uneducated people are unaware of the court’s terms and conditions. Consequently, they walk directly into the trouble by violating the rules of the country in their attempt to earn their living, to make sure that everybody gets equal justice the judiciary should carry out awareness campaigns in simple, practical common man’s language. Otherwise, the poor fall victim to penal codes and they are denied justice.
D. Give the meanings of these words from the story and make sentences with them. (words in context)
1. shaggy – rough-haired
An Indian hermit usually has a shaggy beard.
2. Unkempt – uncombed
The teacher scolded John for his unkempt hair.
3. Heathen – a person regarded as lacking moral principles
My new neighbour seems to be a heathen.
4. smirked – put on a silly smile
When he has pointed out his mistakes he smirked at me.
5. commits – do a crime or a blunder
As long as he remains a part of that gang he commits unpardonable crimes.
6. ignorance – lack of knowledge
He feigned ignorance when he was caught for theft.
E. Think and discuss.
(extension of the theme)
1. Discuss in a group what should have been done with Denis Grigoryev.
Ans:- Denis is a simple-minded and uneducated man who is not aware of the threat to people’s lives that unscrewing the nuts from the rails could cause. He is incapable of understanding that the accident does not give a signal before it occurs. So I think we should adopt the same strategy to convince him of the gravity of the situation which may cost the lives of the innocent. What do you say Mr John and Miss Tania about it? “See Mr Thomas, if I were responsible for communicating with Grigorieff, I would cite incidents which have occurred because of the unscrewing nuts from the rails”. “You are correct Miss Tania.” “On my part, I would try to make him understand how many people had died same years before in a similar situation in Siberia. “Ok, then, Mr John, perhaps, if he were shown some video clips of train accidents he could have been made understand everything.
2. Work in pairs and write an imaginary description of the magistrate. Remember that he is the antithesis of the peasant.
Ans:- The magistrate, in the beginning, appear to be a wise man as every magistrate ought to be. He makes a calm and careful approach to the peasant’s crime. Initially, he takes cognizance of the peasant’s simple-mindedness and ignorance of the seriousness of the situation. But gradually the magistrate’s patience wears out. The patience of a wise man changes to the irritability of an ordinary man. The magistrate’s ignorance of fish rod weight is as pitiable as Denis ignorance about railway rules. In this case, Denis outwits the magistrate in spite of his learning. At last, the magistrate piqued by Denis foolish rhetoric behaves arrogantly and without a second thought sends him to jail.