This story is in the voice of a young boy whose father is unemployed and reduced to begging. Father and son stand on the street outside a restaurant, which sports a placard that says, "Oysters." While the father screws up his courage to ask some passersby for money, the son asks him, "Papa, what does 'oysters' mean?" He answers vaguely, "It is an animal that lives in the sea." But the son asks progressively more specific questions about oysters, ultimately envisioning the creature as a frog with large jaws that lives between two shells.

When two men walk by, the father begs, "Help us, gentlemen!" Simultaneously, the boy cries out "Oysters!" The gentlemen think this is hilarious. They promptly take the man and his son into the restaurant and buy the boy some oysters to eat. Later that night, the boy develops heartburn, while his father regrets that he was afraid to ask the men, who squandered 10 rubles on buying the oysters, for some money.


This is an example of the humorous stories and sketches that Chekhov wrote while in medical school to support himself and, to a large extent, his family. In only a few pages, the young Chekhov created two memorable characters--a father reduced to begging, but afraid to beg; and his eight-year-old son, bursting with energy and imagination.

It is interesting to relate these characters to Anton Chekhov's own life story. His father had come to Moscow a few years earlier "to look for work, " and the "poor, foolish, queer creature" was generally unsuccessful in supporting his family. Anton, like the boy in the story, never ceased questioning and imagining. The "oysters" motif is also of interest--20 years after this story was published (1904), Chekhov's body was returned to Moscow by train from Badenweiler, Germany, in a freight car labeled "For Oysters Only."


First published in 1884. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

Anton Chekhov. Early Short Stories: 1883-1888


Modern Library

Place Published

New York




Shelby Foote

Page Count