Find this 1500 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/032.html
Today’s story is a character study of a bully. Stepan Stepanitch is wealthy, pompous, and a coward who attacks everybody weaker than him. If he wakes up in a “gloomy state of mind” after losing at cards or suffering from dyspepsia after a night of drinking, there will be hell to pay to anybody who crosses his path. Unfortunately, his young son gets the brunt of his anger. To Stepan’s credit, he never strikes anybody, but he inflicts deep psychological wounds on all those around him. When Stepan wakes from a post supper nap he “feels the stings of conscience,” but “he has not the manliness to be frank,” so he continues to be a world class jackass. The next day with all of the hate drained out, he’s in a good mood and doesn’t even acknowledge the previous day. But the son remembers, and probably for days and years to come. I’ve seen this behavior before and I’m sure Chekhov witnessed his share of cowardly men too. This will be the third time I’ve mentioned James Joyce’s Counterparts, a horrifying classic about an adult bully. At least Stepan isn’t as bad as Farrington.
Stepan Stepanitch is the master of his house and I suspect it is the only thing he controls absolutely in life. After losing money at cards or losing his sensibility with drink, he is prone to transform into a beastly man. Chekhov alerts us in the opening line of this tendency. I can’t help but wonder what Stepan is like on a good day. Might we have a true Jeckyll and Hyde or is this his true nature? He claims to speak the bitter truth in his state of rage to which his wife aptly questions, “It’s strange that you only speak the bitter truth when you liver is out of order.” As is common of a bully, the least able to defend themselves receive most of the rage. In this case, it is Stepan’s son, Fedya. Instead of instilling the virtues of hard work, he berates the child for some unknown transgression with an implication of laziness accusing Fedya of being an “idiot” stating, “no one must eat the bread of idleness!” His wife finally has had enough. She proclaims “you never let us have dinner in peace! Your bread sticks in my throat”…I’m not sure what that means but it would’ve sounded better had she slapped Stepan and came to the rescue of her son. Instead, she leaves the room with her son in a corner. Recognizing that all remaining eyes are focused on him, Stepan departs, but not before one last abusive tirade wherein he disclaims all responsibility for the future welfare of his son. Here is where I was hoping Chekhov would turn the story. Stepan addresses the governess before leaving but she regrettably remained silent. I was hoping the governess would be revealed as the unsung hero…the true head of the family…the one who rescued everyone from their oppressor. Alas, reality sets in. Chekhov doesn’t write fairy tales. He merely reflects the human condition in shorter narrative. Fedya doesn’t have a chance.