A Day In The Country by Anton Chekhov, 1886
The magic trick:
Introducing and solving a crisis but in doing so alluding to the ever-present nature of the crises for the impoverished of the Russian countryside
Settle in for another Chekhov Week. It’s his third – an SSMT high. Too many? Probably not enough. He is the master, after all.
We begin with “A Day In The Country,” a stark, sad look at poverty in the Russian countryside. This story, I would argue, stands in direct contradiction to Chekhov’s Gun Theory that suggests that if a writer introduces a gun in the first act, the gun had better go off by Act III.
“A Day In The Country” opens with a looming storm cloud that would appear to imperil a young boy who has gotten his arm stuck in a tree. But – spoiler alert – the feared peril never plays out. The storm passes; the boy frees his arm. So what’s up with Chekhov disputing his own tenet of storytelling?
Seems there’s more than one way to tell a story. The storm cloud isn’t necessarily a gun waiting to go off, either. In some ways it’s worse and more dangerous than that. The cloud simply is an ever-present part of the children’s lives, metaphorically at least. Today, they escaped and found shelter. Tomorrow, there will be new challenges, new threats, new clouds. And then more and more and more and more. And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
“Holy, holy, holy . . .” whispers Fyokla, hurrying after Terenty. The first rain-drops, big and heavy, lie, dark dots on the dusty road. A big drop falls on Fyokla’s cheek and glides like a tear down her chin.
“The rain has begun,” mutters the cobbler, kicking up the dust with his bare, bony feet. “That’s fine, Fyokla, old girl. The grass and the trees are fed by the rain, as we are by bread. And as for the thunder, don’t you be frightened, little orphan. Why should it kill a little thing like you?”
As soon as the rain begins, the wind drops. The only sound is the patter of rain dropping like fine shot on the young rye and the parched road.
“We shall get soaked, Fyolka,” mutters Terenty. “There won’t be a dry spot left on us. . . . Ho-ho, my girl! It’s run down my neck! But don’t be frightened, silly. . . . The grass will be dry again, the earth will be dry again, and we shall be dry again. There is the same sun for us all.”
A flash of lightning, some fourteen feet long, gleams above their heads. There is a loud peal of thunder, and it seems to Fyokla that something big, heavy, and round is rolling over the sky and tearing it open, exactly over her head.
“Holy, holy, holy . . .” says Terenty, crossing himself. “Don’t be afraid, little orphan! It is not from spite that it thunders.”