Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-27-2003


Burkin and Ivan Ivanovich seek shelter from the rain in Alehin's country home. As they sit having their tea, Ivan Ivanovich tells the story of his brother, Nikolay, who worked as a government functionary and always dreamed of saving enough money to buy his own country home with a garden and gooseberries. He skimped and saved and finally, after his wife's death, bought an estate.

When Ivan Ivanovich visited him many years later, Nikolay was no longer the self-doubting clerk he once was, but had become a confident (and corpulent) landowner, who was obviously happy with his life and with the delicious gooseberries from the bushes he had planted. Ivan Ivanovich realized then that he, too, was a happy man, despite all the pain and evil in the world.


The key to this story comes near the end when Ivan Ivanovich reflects on how he felt when he observed his brother's happiness: "at the sight of a happy man I was overcome with an oppressive feeling that was close upon despair." Why? "You look at life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, incredible poverty all about us, overcrowding, degeneration, drunkenness, hypocrisy, lying . . . . " Yet people continue in their ordinary, self-satisfied lives, ignoring those who suffer.

He realizes that, no matter how happy one is now, "life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him." Ivan Ivanovich realizes that he, too, is one of the self-deluded persons, content with his lot and not helping to reduce suffering and injustice. He pleads with his host, "Don't be calm and contented! Don't let yourself be put to sleep!"


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