An Awkward Business

Chekhov, Anton

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Apr-21-2004


A country doctor, Gregory Ovchinnikov, begins his daily rounds in the hospital. He soon notes that his assistant, Smirnovsky, is drunk. When the assistant refuses to obey an order and snaps back at him, Ovchinnikov hits the man in his face. The angry physician then rushes out of the ward and goes back to his lodgings.

At first, he considers demanding that the town council fire Smirnovsky. Later, after he goes back to work, Orchinnikov begins to wonder about the enormity of his unprofessional act--perhaps the town council will fire him. Strangely, when the assistant comes to apologize, the doctor indicates that it is he--the doctor--who has behaved inexcusably. The assistant is stunned, but decides to complain to the council. Of course, the council demands that the (lower class) Smirnovsky apologize to the (upper class) Ovchinnikov.


This story illustrates both a conflict of conscience and a conflict between social classes. With regard to the latter, it is quite clear that the town council would never rule against the gentleman-physician in favor of the drunken, lower class medical orderly. The physician, however, struggles with his own conscience: was he justified in hitting the man? If not, what should he do to make amends? (How strange the notion is, that a gentleman should feel compelled to make amends to a drunken peasant!)


First published: 1888. Translated by Ronald Hingley.

Primary Source

The Steppe and Other Stories


Oxford Univ. Press

Place Published

New York