Polinka by Anton Chekhov, 1887
The magic trick:
Revealing larger themes through a personal conversation
This is the kind of Anton Chekhov story that makes me want to just sit down and write a story myself. It seems so simple. Set a scene. Two characters talking. One is frustrated with the other. As he takes out his personal anger, a larger societal theme is revealed. Simple, right?
And that’s quite a trick on Chekhov’s part.
Patches of red come into Nikolay Timofeitch’s face round his eyes. He crushes the soft feather trimming in his hand and goes on muttering:
“Do you imagine he’ll marry you — is that it? You’d better drop any such fancies. Students are forbidden to marry. And do you suppose he comes to see you with honourable intentions? A likely idea! Why, these fine students don’t look on us as human beings . . . they only go to see shopkeepers and dressmakers to laugh at their ignorance and to drink. They’re ashamed to drink at home and in good houses, but with simple uneducated people like us they don’t care what any one thinks; they’d be ready to stand on their heads. Yes! Well, which feather trimming will you take? And if he hangs about and carries on with you, we know what he is after. . . . When he’s a doctor or a lawyer he’ll remember you: ‘Ah,’ he’ll say, ‘I used to have a pretty fair little thing! I wonder where she is now?’ Even now I bet you he boasts among his friends that he’s got his eye on a little dressmaker.”
Polinka sits down and gazes pensively at the pile of white boxes.
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