29 pages 58 minutes read

Anton Chekhov

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Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1897

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Important Quotes

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“The Don railway. A quiet, cheerless station, white and solitary in the steppe, with its walls baking in the sun, without a speck of shade, and, it seems, without a human being.”

(Part 1, Paragraph 1)

The opening line of the story is an example of Chekhov’s economical storytelling. It also recalls his work as a playwright, as plays tend to establish the scene with a similarly brief description. The theatrical nature of the opening makes the setting seem like an empty stage onto which the characters have not yet stepped.

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“‘My darling, my darling!’ cried her aunt, shrieking as though she were in hysterics. ‘Our real mistress has come! You must understand you are our mistress, you are our queen! Here everything is yours! My darling, my beauty, I am not your aunt, but your willing slave!’”

(Part 1, Paragraph 10)

Here, Auntie Dasha introduces the various power dynamics at play on the estate; her comment about becoming a “slave” is filled with irony because she, herself, is an enslaver. By calling Vera her mistress and queen, Dasha also foreshadows the climax of the story, when Vera takes on the role of cruel enslaver and calls for Alyona to be beaten with a birch stick.

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“‘In old days, if the servants didn’t please him or anything else went wrong, he would jump up at once and shout: “Twenty-five strokes! The birch!” But now he has grown milder and you never hear him. And besides, times are changed, my precious; one mayn’t beat them nowadays. Of course, they oughtn’t to be beaten, but they need looking after.’”

(Part 1, Paragraph 14)

By 1897, serfdom has officially ended, but the old customs and practices have not yet died away. In excusing the grandfather’s violence, Dasha reveals her paternalistic attitudes toward the peasants; though the grandfather can no longer beat them, they still require a strong hand to guide them day to day.