Misery by Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov, a prolific short storey writer and dramatist, is known for his wit and keen observations of human nature. His characters appear to be based on real people. His stories are a commentary on human nature.
Anton Chekhov’s story ‘Misery’ deals with human insensitivity to the pain of others. It conveys the anguish of an elderly person who has recently been bereaved due to the death of his son, as well as his urge to express his grief and relieve himself. The world is indifferent and insensitive to his plight.
Summary of Misery by Anton Chekhov
This is the narrative of a father’s sadness over his son’s death. The grief is within him, and he longs to speak about it to alleviate his oppressive misery. However, no one is willing to listen to him. The storey depicts the elderly man’s desire to express his pain with others, his anguish at not being able to find a sympathetic audience, and his ultimate attempt to vent his angst by talking to his horse, his one and only companion.
‘To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief?’ is the sub-title of the storey ‘Misery.’ While his anguish is for the loss of his son, his misery stems from his inability to find an outlet for his grief.
Let us see how the story starts.
It is getting dark. Chekhov describes the shades of darkness everywhere around in a realistic way, heightened by the white snow. We hear a lot of people moving around, but no one is visible in the darkness. Iona Potapov is an elderly man hunched over by rage and despair. He sits white as a ghost, and his mare remains still. People who cannot be seen but whose voices can be heard are constantly moving around them. The writer is able to focus on Iona, the sledge driver’s loneliness. He is surrounded by people, but he is alone in his sadness. The darkness surrounding him is a reflection of the darkness within him. He is like a ghost in white (since he is blanketed by snowflakes) because he has a death-in-life existence.
The first passenger is a member of the army. He is rushing to get to his destination. In every way, he is the polar opposite of Iona. Iona is elderly and tired, whereas the officer is youthful and vibrant. While Iona is overcome with grief, the officer cracks a lighthearted joke. Iona anxiously begs the officer’s attention, but the officer sits with his eyes closed and his ears closed, “disinclined to listen” Chekhov describes the constant flow of sadness in Iona utilising the stream-of-consciousness approach without resorting to visual detail.
The second group of passengers on the sledge consists of three revellers who are young, rumbustious (having a good time in a raucous style), and have no concern in the world. They act as if they are inebriated. One of them is hunched over. Despite his physical deformities, he considers himself superior to the elderly guy who is burdened by grief. They are all indifferent to the old father who attempts to inform them about his son’s death. The old guy is polite and compassionate to his mare; he does not whip her to make her run faster. The revellers run roughshod over his emotions. Iona is glad to see them joyful, but they can not notice the old man’s sadness. The officer’s or the partygoer’s attitude toward the bereaved old father is the same. Neither can understand Iona’s grief.
The elderly man is alone. His misery is immense, unfathomable. It appears like if Iona’s heart bursts and his agony spilt out, it would flood the entire globe, but its enormity is unseen; it is within him, and no one can even understand the depths of its intensity. Iona craves friends with whom he can unburden himself. He is reassured by the knowledge that he has someone to share his pain with when the revellers are in his sledge. To that extent, his grief has been alleviated. But when he is alone in his sledge, watching crowds pass by, he learns that a throng is no company. “Iona drives a few paces away, bends himself double, and gives himself up to his misery.”
One more attempt to speak with a young cab driver fails. He is by himself, but he still has his mare. To the passive mare, he unburdens his emotions. He mentions his son’s name, Kuzma Ionitch, for the first time. He is no longer there. He has gone before him to the grave. He inquires of the mare how she would feel if she had a colt who died. “You would regret it. Will you?” The mare does not respond. It inhales on his hand. But the animal’s soft and unprotesting gaze soothe the old man in that unsaid moment. He believes he has struck a sympathetic chord in his mare, his lone remaining possession. He pours forth his emotions to her. He is found a way to express his pain.
Is the mare paying attention? Is she sympathetic and understanding? Is the last half of the storey really a figment of the elderly man’s imagination? The finale is purposefully left open-ended. However, the anecdote emphasises the notion that humans are essentially oblivious to other people’s anguish and lack any connection or participation in their fellowmen’s grief.
Analysis of the of Misery by Anton Chekhov
“Misery” is a narrative about the human condition in an urban context. The story depicts human nature as untouched by the world’s misfortunes as long as they do not affect it personally. The author muses on the loneliness that might be felt in the city’s hectic existence. The title refers to not only the protagonist’s current situation but also to all aspects of city life. Every meeting with the protagonist reveals a lack of sympathy and kindness, warmth and camaraderie. The title also alluded to various sufferings, such as the misery of cold weather, the misery of poverty, which forces an elderly man to work when he should be retired and resting, the misery of losing a young son in one’s old age, and the misery of not having anybody to share one’s feelings with. The protagonist’s only warm touch is with his horse, with whom Iona Potapov shares his plight.
The storey can be evaluated to see how it represents a Marxist critique of society. In his Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx sees capitalism as the terrible power that divides society into wealthy and poor. It alienates people and corrupts them by focusing their attention on material items. It widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots all the time. Iona, in our scenario, represents a victim of Capitalism. He is a poor sledge-driver who has become estranged from the rest of the city as they all focus on their daily lives.
Iona Potapov, a sledge driver in a Russian city, has recently lost his kid and want to express his sorrow. He is old and worn, and he is heartbroken by the death of his young kid. He wishes he had died rather than his son. He is compelled to drive out into the cold in order to earn money so that he and his horse do not go hungry. He has no family or friends, so he tries to make friends with clients that ride with him.
His first comments to the consumer are about his enormous loss. Aside from a few questions about how and when the consumer has no desire to learn more. Iona turns around, hoping to engage in a lengthier chat, but the customer has closed his eyes, signifying his unwillingness to converse. Three young males are his next customers. Iona tries to communicate his pain but fails since the young men do not care what happens to him as long as they get to their target. Iona’s only physical interaction with them is when the hunchback slaps him on the back. Iona hears rather than feels this as well.
Nobody in the congested city, where people are pressing and jostling one other, has time to listen to Iona. Iona, unable to tolerate his grief and loneliness, drives to the yard where he lives. Finally, when he can no longer endure it, Iona pours out his soul to his horse.
Questions and Answers of Misery by Anton Chekhov
Q. After reading the story, note how many times the word ‘misery’ appears in it.
Ans. It appears towards the latter half of the story five times and on a sixth occasion, it is used as an adjective ‘miserable’.
Q. How does the old man find the others on his sledge?
Ans. The old man in grief is a sledge driver. He is the protagonist of the story. The other characters who appear briefly during the course of the story are riders on his sledge ‘Who have neither the time nor the inclination to listen to him. They live in a world of their own and cannot sympathetically relate to the old man in grief.
Q. Can you see the significance of this word in the context of the title of the story?
Ans. In this one word ‘misery’ the title accurately summarizes the mood the story carries. It tells us about the self-centred, unresponsive and feelingless nature of human beings in this world. The title ‘Misery’ portrays the overwhelming grief of Iona Potapov, the old sledge-driver over the loss of his son and his futile attempts to share it with fellow travellers in his sledge.
The first part of the story describes the old man’s grief and his repeated efforts to catch the attention of the sledge riders and his failure to make them listen to his tale of woe. The resulting emotion goes beyond grief and becomes misery. Hence the title word ‘misery’ appears in the latter part of the story.
Misery means great suffering of the mind or body. Here the suffering is not physical but felt within the heart. There can be no cure for emotional distress unless it is let out and shared with others. The old man has to keep his’ emotions within, as there are no listeners to lend an ear. He has been rendered alone by the death of his son, but his loneliness increases when he finds no one with whom he can share his agony. He is severely alone and therefore is miserable.