Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Short Story Review: "Vanka" by Anton Chekhov

It has been awhile since I have really been able to decorate this blog with multiple posts, but I shall consider this a bit of a revival. I have been putting a vast amount of concentration into getting Literary Gladiators off the ground, thus the blog has been getting some slight concentration. Anyhow, the Christmas season is here and the holiday itself is just two days away. To observe Christmas being right around the corner (that's right... so if you still have gifts to prepare or food that needs to be selected, this is crunch time), I felt it would be appropriate to discuss a story that sparks a bit of that holiday feeling. The two works of literature that people generally associate with Christmas are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, so reviews and recognition for these works should be common. I am taking a different path and will be reviewing a Christmas short story written by Anton Chekhov called "Vanka." I will warn you now that this review will explore the entire work, so there will be spoilers.

Chekhov is one of Russia's brilliant minds in literature. He developed Moscow's Art Theatre and dubbed as the father of the modern day short story. I feel that his short stories are very well written, even if the plot is so light that the extent to his stories could go as far as a couple catching their nosy brother spy on them doing their thing and they get back at him by yanking his ear (they each take one). "Vanka" seems to follow the trend of answering the question "so what" in the way that the central character can either be a hit or a miss, but I seemed to find some kind of attachment to a young boy who just wants to get out of his mess of a situation in time for the holidays.

Vanka Zhukov is a nine year old boy who has lost his parents and is now orphaned. The only relative remaining in his life is his grandfather, who is sixty-five, and is at a distant location during this time of season. Vanka gets himself into trouble, as he mentions in the letters, but for more technical mistakes and not acts of mischief. For instance, he gets a whipping because he falls asleep while rocking the baby. On another occasion, he is jabbed in the face (which he refers to as a "mug") by the tail of the herring because he began cleaning the herring with the tail instead of in the more proper method. Vanka is living with a master and a mistress, to which we are left to believe are cold individuals that do nothing but instill heartless discipline on the boy. He begs his grandfather to take him as his own and that he can get away from his current living situation. The letter shows examples that range from arranging his snuff to taking care of him when he grows older.

Vanka, who signs his card as "Ivan Zhukov," folds the letter up and sends it in the mail. We are left with Vanka dreaming of his grandfather at his own home with his servants and dog reading the letter sent by Vanka. This only leaves him with a small sense of optimism that his grandfather did, in fact, receive the letter. Since it ends here, we do not get Vanka's reaction when the dream ends, nor do we know what happens to Vanka. It would be logical to say that what is to come on Christmas day is just another day in the life. Perhaps there may be a response, but nothing immediate. He did only leave his grandfather's name, so unless Russia has a mailing system that can recognize letters by name alone, there may be a good chance that this letter gets discarded.

The emotional buildup and the longing rests in the relationship that Vanka has with his grandfather. It is portrayed poignantly with memories that the two had with one another. Vanka reminisces of simple, but still fond memories that are meant to be cherished. Being away from the warmth of his family and among the coldness of individuals that are just taking care of him to take care of him causes the longing to grow larger and this emotion is poured throughout the card.

One thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the point of view. Vanka is a nine year old boy that is begging like a nine year old boy would (making promises so that they get their way), One may see him as being too over the top. I hold sympathy for Vanka on the basis that it has to be a massive strain to lose your parents at this point in life. He wants someone who is truly family to give him a sense of emotional warmth during the holidays and he is not getting this with these relatives of his. I feel that Chekhov does just enough to dramatize and that while it is light, it shows strokes of a good craft.

I am on the fence when it comes to whether or not this work could be considered good Christmas entertainment. I would lean toward looking elsewhere, but at the same time I would suggest that you read this and Chekhov's other short stories as well. "Vanka" may not strike one with the Christmas feeling unless one is willing to think, because it leaves things open-ended in the way that it relies on flashbacks and the structure of having the central character write a letter to allow these flashbacks to flow right out of him.

I want to send all of my Christmas wishes out to my readers and inform you that I plan to submit more to this blog as the year wraps up.

No comments:

Post a Comment