Today’s story comes in at 1358 words. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/022.html
Small Fry is not a great story. A lowly civil servant has to work on Easter eve while the rest of the town is out celebrating and feels awful about it. An alternate title could be “Fear and Self-Loathing in a Government Office.” It’s not anything like Hunter S. Thompson’s work, but the title is apt. Hoping to write a letter to a superior that might lead to a two-ruble raise, petty clerk Nevyrazimov can’t find the inner fortitude to finish writing it. Instead he smashes the smallest thing around him. This is the second time I’ve been reminded of James Joyce’s “Counterparts.” Both stories share a theme of men who hate themselves and their situations, yet do nothing to change, only hurting smaller creatures to make up for their inferiority complex. (Earlier the clerk had commiserated with a cockroach.) A section that made me chuckle was, “Even if stealing is an easy matter, hiding is what’s difficult. Men run away to America, they say, with what they’ve stolen, but the devil knows where that blessed America is. One must have education even to steal, it seems.” The clerk is self-centered with low self-esteem and at no point does he even think about the porter who is on duty with him and missing the festivities too. His selfishness would not allow for it.
Chekhov tells the story of a petty clerk bound to a life of government servitude at the lowest rank largely due to his own lack of ambition and self-worth. This particular night is made worse by the fact that he is working on Easter. He must endure the happiness he perceives outside the window while he wallows in self-pity alongside a cockroach who crosses his path. At first he feels sorry for the creature, who toils in the office without respite, while he essentially ignores the fellow human (porter) who shares his shift. Contemplating his situation, he comes to realize that even if he were to be relieved (or take flight) his life at home is not much brighter. “Such a flight promised nothing worth having.” Having nothing to look forward to in his current state, he considers the options for advancement in his career. None of these seem promising however as they require an education or a modicum of creativity–for which he lacks. Finding no solace is thought, he returns to his meager task–writing a letter. But just then…an opportunity presents itself. An opportunity to regain a moment of respect and power over his condition. The creature he pitied above himself had the misfortune to catch his eye. The cockroach was eternally relieved of his duties leaving only our petty clerk to fill his shoes.