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"Misery" by Anton Chekhov

Updated on July 18, 2012

“If Iona's heart were to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, but yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant shell that one would not have found it with a candle by daylight....” ( para. 41). “Misery” is a wonderful tale about a man named Iona who is in mourning over his dead son. Throughout the story, this sledge driver tries over and over again to talk to someone about his son’s death. Iona’s son tragically died a week ago and still has not told a soul. Finally, at the end Iona finds comfort when he talks to his horse, which is the only one wanting to listen. “Misery” reflects the harshness of human behavior and the lack of connection and compassion towards others.

The story takes place in Russia. Readers are aware of the setting when an officer yells at Iona saying, “"Sledge to Vyborgskaya!" (para. 3). Vyborgskaya is a village in Russia. The title “Misery” instantly sets the tone of the short story. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes the term “misery” as: “A state of suffering and want that is the result of poverty or affliction; A circumstance, thing, or place that causes suffering or discomfort; A state of great unhappiness and emotional distress. Misery can bring emotion and/or physical distress to a person. Iona, the main character in “Misery” for instance, can be distinguished as the most miserable man right now. The story claims that Iona is “white like a ghost [and] sits on the box without stirring, bent as double as the living body can be bent” (para. 1). The text also describes how he has “snow-plastered eyelashes” and he is unwilling to brush off snow from himself. Iona’s lack of caring for himself following his son’s death is an expression of being in the state of misery and how he seems dead to the world.

Within the story, Iona tries to talk to people three times about the death of his son. The first time, Iona attempts to talk with an officer. He tells the officer, “"My son... er... my son died this week, sir” (para. 13). This is also the first time the readers learn why he is so unhappy. At first the officer seems to care and asks Iona what he dies from. But his concern turned quickly to anger when Iona turns completely around in order to face the officer for a chat. The officer seems to be annoyed and unwilling to listen to Iona’s misery. The officer seems to not want to be burdened by Iona’s grief. In his next fare, Iona drives three young men; two tall and thin and one hunchback. Iona drives them for less of what the three men should be paying him. But Iona seems to be mentally unstable to recognize what is going on in the world around him. As they set off the hunchback insults Iona by making fun of his hat and how slow of a driver he is. Instead of fighting back or showing hurt from the cruel words of the hunchback, Iona laughs right along with them. Then when Iona tells them about his dead son, the hunchback says, “"We shall all die” (para. 34). Again, Iona get no sympathy at all. When Iona goes back to his stable, he tries a third time to tell someone about the death of his son, but the cabdriver soon fell asleep.

Iona finally finds comfort talking to his horse in the stable. He says to the mare, ““That's how it is, old girl.... Kuzma Ionitch is gone.... He said good-by to me.... He went and died for no reason.... Now, suppose you had a little colt, and you were own mother to that little colt.... And all at once that same little colt went and died.... You'd be sorry, wouldn't you?... "” (para. 58). Then, the text then stats that, “The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master's hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it” (para. 59). In this part of the story, Iona pours his heart out to his horse. And unlike the officer, the hunchback, and the cabdriver, the horse listens or appears to listen in Iona’s eyes. The conclusion is left with an indecisive ending. Hopefully, Iona found closure in his horse. Yet Iona wants his listener “to sigh and exclaim and lament....” (para.53). The horse does not respond.

On a personal note, I have gone through a miserable in my lifetime. I know what it’s like to long for someone to listen; not necessarily responding to my grief, but just listening to what I have to say. “Misery” is about the absence of compassion towards people and their wretchedness. After reading "Misery," I look at my own attitude towards the compassion of others. Chekhov ‘s story is an insightful look at human behavior. How sad is it that Iona must turn to his horse, an animal, for an outlet for his pain and misery? Hopefully, humanity will become more kindhearted in the years to come.


References

Chekhov, A. (1886). "Misery". Retrieved from http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/achekhov/bl-achek-misery.htm


"Misery" by Anton Chekhov

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