Our story today contains roughly 1909 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/034.html
This story is seen through the eyes of Grisha, a “solemn little person of seven.” He watches in horror over a series of days as an arranged marriage of his family’s house cook unfolds. Between the nurse and his mamma, they force the cook, Pelageya, to marry a cabman. Even though she protests, it falls on her mistress’ deaf ears. Grisha’s father tries to stop his wife by saying, “What business is it of yours?” But to mamma it seems like the marriage to the “sober and steady” cabman is already in the bag. Neighboring cooks and maidservants also get involved, amping up pressure on Pelageya. It seems that only Grisha feels the plight and lack of independence of the cook. When a few Sundays later Pelageya is married. Her “face worked all over and she began blubbering…” Since Grisha has limited views, we don’t know how she gave in to the pressure, but in no way did she want this. Her fate is driven home further when the cabman, demands an advance on his wife’s wages from the mistress. Unfortunately Chekhov hammers the point home writing: “Pelageya was living in freedom, doing as she liked, and not having to account to anyone for her actions, and all at once, for no sort of reason, a stranger turns up, who has somehow acquired rights over her conduct and her property!” This sentence is very uncharacteristic of Chekhov’s work since he usually lets the reader draw their own conclusions. Even though it’s from Grisha point of view, I’m not sure why he had to spell it out. I’m glad he ended the scene with Grisha giving an apple to the cook to bring the story back to a seven year old’s actions. I would have rather seen the story from Pelageya’s point of view to really feel the stress of her situation.
Today’s story shows us life interpreted through the eyes of a child. This is the second of Chekhov’s stories to focus on a child. Unlike Oysters however, this story is not a recollection of the past through an adult filter, but rather a real-time 3rd person account into the mind of a 7-year old boy named Grisha. While nosing around, he overhears a conversation in the kitchen wherein an “old” cabman approaching 40 is making his case to the nurse of the house to marry the cook, Pelageya. The cook is adamantly opposed to the arranged marriage but eventually concedes to the wishes of others. Grisha bears witness to the short-lived courtship, which seems to involve everyone except Pelageya, and is shocked at how “terribly shameful” marriage must be. Following the actual wedding, he wonders what fate has befallen Pelageya when she does not return home before his going to bed. “The poor thing is crying somewhere in the dark!” he thought. “While the cabman is saying to her ‘shut up!'” The following morning bears some repeating as the cook returns to her station and is accompanied briefly by her new husband who hastily adds to the morning formalities that he would like an advance on her wages to buy a new horse-collar. Perhaps Grisha’s interpretation of Pelageya’s fate is not far from the mark. Grisha ends the story in distress noting with some ironic truth that “all at once, for no sort of reason, a stranger turns up, who has somehow acquired rights over her conduct and her property!” The best he can do to alleviate his distress is show a sign of affection for Pelageya, which was most assuredly misinterpreted by the cook.