Another short one weighing in at just over 1080 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/005.html
Oh those wacky peasants! I feel a better name should’ve been “How I Got Into Business School.” A nervous young lad goes to take his Greek exam and things do not go well. His mother is furious, but too exhausted in heartbreak to dole out a proper beating. Through tears of anguish she laments that she never thrashed the boy enough and that is why he is a failure. Apparently the more frequent and harsh the beatings the more brilliant the student. So she has a “clever” lodger proxy the corporal punishment for her. (Yes, I just made a noun into a verb.) And this where things get disturbing. I know this has to do with a whipping, but it doesn’t sound right. Here is the passage:
When he had finished his speech, he took off his belt and took Vanya by the hand.
“It’s the only way to deal with you,” he said. Vanya knelt down submissively and thrust his head between the lodger’s knees. His prominent pink ears moved up and down against the lodger’s new serge trousers, with brown stripes on the outer seams.
Vanya did not utter a single sound.
Um, yeah. Disturbing to say the least. I’m sure if this were an act of sodomy this story would be notoriously controversial and I’m looking at the text through the lenses of 21st century eyes. Yet why is there no mention of the belt meeting the boy’s backside, but instead details of “serge trousers” and “pink ears” moving up and down.
This story is below average in my opinion. On another note, James Joyce’s “Counterparts” is another story of a child beating by an absolute loser that I’ve never been able to shake from my mind.
Certainly not what I expected…but then Chekhov is good at surprising us. The vulgarity at the end was only made tolerable by the insinuation Vanya (the main character) would be going in to business. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was meaning in the Greek words Chekhov called out as missed opportunities to improve his test score. For example, I thought it ironic that Vanya was asked to define the future of phero which apparently is a verb meaning “to carry some burden“. The intense disappointment and accusations being hurled at Vanya by the only parental figures to whom we are introduced (his mother and aunt) suggest all of their future hopes were tied to his exams in Greek. In the end, his punishment was not well-suited to the “crime” … of course I’m referring to his pursuit of business over the classics.