The story is told of Byelikov, "the man in a case." Byelikov, the Greek teacher at a provincial school, was extraordinarily orderly both in his personal and professional lives. A strict disciplinarian, he never made exceptions to the rules. He always did things the proper way, determined to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Although he and his colleagues had nothing to speak about, he would regularly visit each one of them because it was the accepted thing to do. Every time something slightly irregular came up, Byelikov would cry, "Oh, how I hope it doesn't reach the ears of the authorities!" Naturally, the other teachers hated him.

At one point, Byelikov became enamored of Varinka, the sister of Kovalenko, a new teacher at the school. Everyone encouraged this relationship, hoping that marriage would moderate Byelikov. However, someone drew a humorous caricature of Byelikov and Varinka.

Then, Byelikov saw Varinka and her brother bicycling in the park. Outraged, Byelikov went to the brother to complain about this scandalous behavior, but Kovalenko pushed him down the steps. Byelikov than became depressed, took to his bed, and died, thereby truly becoming a man in a box (i.e. a coffin).


A fascinating story of character. Chekhov uses the device of a tale within a tale. Two men (Burkin and Ivan Ivanovitch) are lodged for the night in a barn and swapping stories; Burkin tells Byelikov's tale as an example of people "who try to retreat into their shell like a hermit crab or a snail." At the end of the tale, the two friends look at the moon and breathe the night air, realizing that their life in town, with all its restrictions and compromises, is much like being in a shell or a case. In the country they feel peaceful and free.

We all have our shells, Chekhov seems to be saying. We all have limitations on our ability to love or to be open to others. Yet, openness and freedom can be experienced--at least, for for a few moments. "The Man in a Case" is part of a trio of short stories in which Burkin and Ivan Ivanovich appear; Gooseberries (see annotation) and "About Love" are the others.


First published: 1898. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 5: The Wife and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count