Find today’s 3148 word story here http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/084.html
(Note: this is a quick review as I’ve fallen behind on many things this weekend.) A father and son who bear the same temperaments, collide in today’s story. The entire family seems terrified of the father, Shiryaev. When the oldest son, Pytor, at the prompting of his mother, asks for money to go to school, causing Shiryaev to eventually lose it. What is interesting, and Chekhov makes a point of it, is how a cycle occurs. Shiryaev yells at his wife before storming out, and Pytor, confounded by his emotions, yells at his mother too, even though later he tells his father, “You can quarrel with me as much as you like, but leave my mother in peace! I will not allow you to torment my mother!“ I found the emotions of Pytor to be authentic for a young college bound student. Especially when plans to walk towards Moscow until he dies of starvation and the elements. That’ll show them! There was tension and pride throughout the story that felt realistic and almost voyeuristic by seeing the ugly side of a family.
We’ve read previous Chekhov stories with oppressive male figures (e.g. The Huntsman, The Head of the Family, Anyuta, Agafya, The Husband, and A Trifle from Life), but I believe this is the first with a father-son match-up where the son actually retaliates. The story opens with the father, Shiryaev, washing his hands preparing for dinner with a face that “as usual” was “anxious and ill-humoured”. What was interesting about the opening is how Shiryaev was initially introduced. He is a small farmer who inherited over 300 acres of land from his father, a priest, who acquired it from a general’s widow. There is no further mention of this relationship but it perhaps highlights an irony in the story that Shiryaev was not responsible for any wealth he may enjoy. The story continues with dinner conversation largely between Shiryaev, his college son (Pyotr) and his wife (Fedosya). Pyotr is preparing to return to classes and is timidly trying to ask for money from his father. Initially his father appears happy to comply but when the requests continue to mount for routine expenses he eventually loses patience and alternately blames his son’s laziness and his wife’s maternal skills for needing to give out money. Shiryaev eventually runs out into the yard in a rage leaving his family trembling. Then it was the son’s turn to lash out and we are given a glimpse of Shiryaev’s priestly father who “used to beat his parishioners about the head with a stick.” Ill-temper runs in the family but must have been appropriately hidden from public view to warrant the allotment of land they take for granted. Refusing to take the money and yelling at his mother, Pyotr also runs into the yard setting, no doubt, an example for his younger brothers to follow in the future. Pyotr decides to walk to Moscow and imagines all the adventures he will have on his way while simultaneously keeping with his depressed mood over the state of his family and relationship to his father. Upon seeing a neighbor however, he smiles and offers good comments which left him wondering how such internal moods could be hidden by the outward smile. “And he thought nature itself had given man this capacity for lying, that even in difficult moments of spiritual strain he might be able to hide the secrets of his nest as the fox and the wild duck do.” He eventually decides to walk back home and is determined to have a talk with his father about his oppressive personality. Finding his father pacing about the room, “scowling at the weather”, Pyotr offers a familiar quote: “your bread sticks in our throat” (c.f. The Head of the Family). He then continues to talk to his father for the first time as a man: “Though you are my father, no one, neither God nor nature, has given you the right to insult and humiliate us so horribly, to vent your ill-humour on the weak.” The lecture continues despite Shiryaev’s warnings who eventually blames his wife for the insubordination. Despite his final declaration that he can no longer live with his family, Pyotr stays one more night to leave the next morning. Exchanging minimal signs of affection, forgiveness, or reconciliation the father and son say goodbye. I got the sense that some background negotiations had occurred over night with his wife because Shiryaev states that he has left money on the table for his son. It’s hard to believe this was done out of love or guilt. It is not clear whether or not Pyotr took the money as a “cold, hateful rain was falling” to guide him on his way.