Misery by Anton Chekhov is one of the saddest short stories written in the twentieth century. The title of the story does justice to the theme of the story which is of loneliness, misery, and the need to communicate ones feelings.
The story begins with the description of Iona Potapov, a sledge driver who is also the protagonist of the story. From the beginning the reader comes to know that the mood of the story is sad as the author describes Iona as “all white like a ghost” (Chekhov). From the description of Iona and his behavior it is clear that something is wrong.
Soon it is told that Iona’s son had died a week before which has left him this way. The story takes place on a cold evening in winter which reflects the feelings of Iona. All Iona wants in return of his son’s death is someone he can share his grief with. His desperation to share the memory of his son with someone is revealed when he thinks to himself “To whom shall I tell my grief?” (Chekhov).
As the story goes forward Iona’s daily encounter with his customers reveal his loneliness. While Iona is continuously trying to share his grief with someone, anyone at all, but no one seems to care. Everyone is caught up in their own little world and seem to be too busy to spare sometime to share a stranger’s misery. The ignorance of people can be seen from the way they respond to Iona when he tells them that his soon expired only a week back.
One of the customers says that “We shall all die…Come, drive one…I simply cannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?” (Chekhov). It is clear that the personal meaningless engagements are dearer to people than a stranger’s life changing experience. The brutality of the world is revealed through the passengers that Iona drives around. No one is willing to listen to Iona despite the continuous efforts made by him which make his need to talk very obvious.
After being disappointed by the apathetic behaviour of the surrounding public, Iona decides to go home early. The author describes the extent of his misery when he writes that “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” (Chekhov).
As Iona reaches home, another part of his misery is revealed which is poverty. He sits next to the “big dirty stove” where the air is “full of smells and stuffiness” (Chekhov). As Iona realizes that he will never find a person who would care about his misery or even pretend to do so, he decides to share the memories of his son with is white mare, which is not able to speak but is always by his side.
The ending of the story is rather sad because Iona fails to find even a single human being to share his grief and has to settle with an animal. Though Iona is relieved to be able to finally talk to someone the fact remains that it is an animal with which Iona shares his feelings and not a human being who can actually understand the grief and respond to it. Even though Iona feels better the reader is left upset.
The theme of the story is of misery as the title suggests and loneliness. According to Hery Nurdiyanto, the story is about “how one man’s grief is ignored by the public, just when he need’s someone’s attention the most” (Nurdiyanto). This is true as Iona is struggling in the story to find a person to talk to about his deceased son but is ignored by rude public.
The saddest part in the story is that people continue to ignore even after he tells them that his son has died. It is one thing when a person does not know, but deciding to ignore Iona even after knowing about his misery brings forth the dark side of humans. The story shows the other side of humans, which is of ignorance, which is something that we don’t like acknowledge.
Lawrence Jay Dessner describes the end of the story as a “kind of pathetic relief” and “a horrifying and heartbreaking revelation” (Dessner). The way Iona decides to relieve himself from the burden of his grief is indeed a “pathetic relief” as he started talking to a horse. Though it is not a bad thing to converse with animals, but the reason why Iona does is different.
He does it because he could not find a person even after trying so hard. Though he encountered many people none of them were willing to listen to the sledge driver. The brutality and rudeness of people toward Iona is rather horrifying, heartbreaking, and deeply felt by the reader. The saddest part remains that this ignorance was not involuntary, but a well thought reaction.
Chekhov, Anton. “Misery.” 2010. Read Print. 23 September 2010
Dessner, Lawrence Jay. “Head, Heart, and Snout: Narrative and Theme in Chekhov’s “Misery”.” College Literature (1985): 246-257.
Nurdiyanto, Hery. “Depressin in the main characters of Anton Chekhov’s short stories “Misery” and “Vanka”: A psychological analysis.” 2008. Repo Konten Ilmiah. 23 September 2010