When an elderly woman dies, her husband telegraphs their six sons to come home. They are successful men between the ages of 20 and 40 who reside in different regions of Russia. The third son, a physicist, brings his 6-year-old daughter along. First, the brothers weep--slowly and silently. They experience a combination of apprehension and loneliness. Next, the siblings participate in a brief religious ceremony. As they surround their mother's coffin listening to the priest, the six men are uncomfortable and perhaps even ashamed. Finally, the brothers act cheerful--singing, telling stories, and roughhousing while preparing to go to sleep.

The third brother calms the others and then exits the bedroom. He stands over his mother's casket and passes out. His head hits the floor. His five brothers revive him and console him. Now all six men are able to fully mourn their deceased mother. They easily recall their childhood. The six brothers carry their mother's coffin and are followed by the father and granddaughter in the funeral procession. The old man is content that one day these same six sons will properly bury him too.


The Third Son considers the effect of death on the family and especially children (adult children and a youngster). The short story examines the many different stages of mourning and the significance of catharsis. The essence of "home" and the value of reunion are also weighty matters in this gentle tale.


The story was originally published in 1936; translated by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler.

Primary Source

Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida


Penguin Books

Place Published





Robert Chandler