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Misery\'s Miserable Mood

Misery\'s Miserable Mood

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Published by: Jesse Alexander Harris on May 30, 2007
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Jesse HarrisFebruary 25, 2007Lit. 2110, Sec. 10466Misery’s Miserable MoodFrom beginning to end, Anton Chekhov’s short story “Misery” utilizes elementsof character and setting to create a pervading dark, miserable and lonesome mood. Thedreariness of the setting and the numerous inconsiderate actions toward the maincharacter and Russian sledge driver Iona Potapov distinctly reflect the story's tragicmood. Throughout the story, Iona is distressed and unsuccessfully seeks someone to talk to about his deceased son. Although he ends up talking to a horse in the end, the animalis a poor substitute for a human being who could actually understand and give feedback,helping Iona grieve and recover from his loss. While his conflict is partially resolved, thedenouement, like the exposition, portrays a miserable mood.The characters that Iona encounters in “Misery” demonstrate one of the story’sessential themes; “Human beings are indifferent to the sufferings of others” (Barnet BurtoCain 101). “Misery” begins with the question “To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief?”(Chekhov 94). This question summarizes Iona’s preoccupation and is the basic conflictof the story which is not resolved until the end. Iona asks himself, “Can he not findamong those thousands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds fitl by heedlessof him and his misery” (97). “His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona’s heartwere to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world” (97). Iona isvery distressed from the death of his son and having no one to talk to about it certainlydoes not help. In order to alleviate his grief he continually attempts to talk to peopleabout his loss. However, everyone he tries to talk to is indifferent to his suffering and theHarris 1
 
story he is trying to tell. After one failed attempt to talk about his situation, Iona becomesoverwhelmed by his anxiety. The story states “Again he is alone and again there issilence for him…. The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back againand tears his heart more cruelly than ever” (97) Iona’s suffering appears to be somewhatrelieved in the denouement when he is able to grieve by talking to a horse. This in turnhelps Iona think about his son with less anxiety since “He cannot think about his sonwhen he is alone… To talk about him with someone is possible, but to think of him and picture him is insufferable anguish” (98). Still, talking to the horse is a poor substitutefor talking to his son or another person that would understand and care. This makes theending less happy than it is sad, reinforcing the tragic mood once again.Iona’s own thoughts and actions add to the feeling of lonely sadness that permeates the whole story. When describing Iona, a sense of stagnation and poverty addsto the mood when the third-person narrator says, “It is a long time since Iona and his naghave budged. They came out of the yard before dinner-time and not a single fare yet”(94). The nature of Iona’s job also portrays his miserable condition, since he must put upwith doing the same task repetitively, brave the cold, and serve customers that are rudeand bossy to him. For example, one of his passengers, an officer, exclaims “You don’tknow how to drive!” (95), while commanding him to keep to the right. When trying totalk to a hunchback, Iona says “This week…er…my…er…son died!” (96). Thehunchback responds “We shall all die…come, drive on! Drive on! My friends, I simplycannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?” (96). Again, thisdemonstrates the passenger’s indifference, rudeness, and aggravation toward Iona who just wants someone to talk to about his grief. Even strangers who Iona passes whileHarris 2
 
driving his sledge are mean to him. For example, “A coachman driving a carriage swearsat him; a pedestrian crossing the road and brushing the horse’s nose with his shoulder looks at him angrily” (95). Another pedestrian angrily asks “Where are you shoving, youdevil?” (95), and Iona is commanded to “Keep to the right” (95).The cold and dreary setting also does much to create an atmosphere of misery aswell. When first introduced Iona is described as “All white like a ghost” (94). Thedescription reminds us of death. He appears this way since he is covered in snow whichis also symbolic of death. Snow falls during the winter, the season when plants and other organisms die, and snow is found in inhospitable landscapes where life does not thrive.Over and over, the sad and lonely themes of “Misery” are reflected in theindifferent and angry characters, sad conflict and cold dreary setting. Symbols of death,stagnation and suffering contribute to these themes greatly reinforcing the mood of thestory. To some extent this mood of suffering is resolved in the end, but only a little.Harris 3

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