Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

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


The story is set in a ship's infirmary where five soldiers and sailors are returning to Russia after serving in the Far East. One of them, Gusev, served as an orderly. He is content to do his duty and get by. His delirious dreams are filled with images of his family's farm. He is concerned that if he does not make it home, the farm will fail and his parents will be thrown into the streets.

He makes kind overtures to another patient, Pavel Ivanych, who responds angrily. Pavel Ivanych considers himself a realist, a truth-teller, and a member of the revolutionary intelligentsia. He ridicules Gusev's optimistic good nature. Where Gusev is blind to the oppression he has suffered, Pavel Ivanych denounces injustice wherever he sees it and has a reputation for being a troublemaker. Even as his illness advances, Pavel Ivanych protests. He refuses to believe that he can die like the others; indeed, he insists that he is improving. Nonetheless, he dies.

Gusev grows worse, too. He feels an insatiable yearning for something that he cannot define. Shortly afterward, he, too, dies and is buried at sea. The story closes with a description of his body descending through a school of fish while a brilliant sunset shines above.


This story might serve several pedagogical purposes. First, it might provoke a discussion on patient strategies to manage pain and suffering. Gusev slides into death; Pavel Ivanych denies and fights. Both characters seem a little ridiculous; Gusev is too passive and Pavel Ivanych has an inflated sense of his own importance. His indignation gets him nowhere.

Second, medicine plays no role. The characters are utterly beyond help. It is interesting to note in this context that Chekhov himself had a medical background and sometimes practiced as a country doctor. The story raises questions about the final importance of medicine and suggests the despair medical practitioners might feel in the face of persistent suffering.

Finally, Pavel Ivanych typifies the overbearing intelligentsia, certain that the “blind” masses cannot survive without their leadership. Chekhov's story ridicules this position, suggesting that Gusev's home-spun knowledge might serve him as well as, if not better than, Pavel Ivanych's political theory. Medical practitioners are sometimes criticized for their own intellectual arrogance. They may undervalue their patients' knowledge of themselves in order to intervene with “better,” more flashy, technical knowledge.


First published: 1890

Primary Source

A Doctor's Visit: Short Stories



Place Published

New York