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Travis Review:

If it weren’t for the title of today’s story, I would have thought that the content was intended as a groan-worthy comedy. The plot concerns a young peasant boy desperately trying to get his blacksmith brother out of jail by appealing to anybody who seemed to have authority. Chekhov has portrayed peasants in different ways from being mean and ignorant to kind hearted and intelligent, but Kirila is either the densest (excluding villagers with mental disabilities) or the most desperate of them all. In this case we see him plead with a doctor, who has no authority, to release his brother. He actions seem absurd and it is later confirmed by a “old man, wearing a woman’s short jacket and a huge cap” driving a cow to town. Knowing as we do of the brother’s guilt (drunkenness is a lame defense), it seems that even pleading to the one person who can help, the permanent member of the rural board for peasants’ affairs, will be in vain. And it is as readers (and the doctor) find out later with the peasant’s father. I didn’t care much for this story as the tone was confusing and overall it wasn’t very interesting.

Rating: 4

Steve Review:

Today we find Kirila, “a young peasant, with white eyebrows and eyelashes and broad cheekbones” waiting to ambush a physician as he exits the hospital to walk home.  His purpose was to plead for the release of his brother, Vaska, who in a drunken stupor apparently robbed a general store with two other men.  For me this initial description conjured images of an albino peasant with an unknown medical disorder and I half expected him to ask the doctor for a medical opinion.  Given the description of all things “white” in the opening sentence, it was interesting that the title represented the opposite.  Beyond my initial inquiry about the title of the story and the medical condition of the main character, I found it difficult to remain engaged in the remainder of the story.  Kirila repeatedly implores the doctor to release his brother despite the insistence by the doctor that he has no power to do so.  The line that caught my eye was when Kirila inquires, “whose business is it, then?  But there is no one above you here in the hospital; you do what you like, your honour.” This notion that the doctor, because of his position in the hospital, had some power over the judicial system was perhaps an interesting testament to the view peasants held toward all men of stature in society.  I doubt the attribution of power imparted on the doctor by Kirila was a nod to the prestige of being a physician as I do not think being a physician in Chekhov’s Russia was considered such a respectable position.  It merely highlighted the delusional thinking of Kirila which continued to play out in the rest of the story as noted by Travis.  I found myself feeling sorry for Kirila despite his ignorance as it became clear that there was no recourse in the judicial system to permit his complaints to be heard legitimately.  I believe Chekhov has done a better job in previous stories with making the point about the failures of government systems to address the needs of the people (e.g. An Inquiry).  The only meaning I can ascribe to the title is that perhaps Kirila will always be kept in darkness to the workings of the system.  Overall, I was disappointed in this story given the recent string of relatively good stories.

Rating:  4