Harris 1 Jesse Harris February 25, 2007 Lit. 2110, Sec.

10466 Misery’s Miserable Mood From beginning to end, Anton Chekhov’s short story “Misery” utilizes elements of character and setting to create a pervading dark, miserable and lonesome mood. The dreariness of the setting and the numerous inconsiderate actions toward the main character and Russian sledge driver Iona Potapov distinctly reflect the story's tragic mood. 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 animal is 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, the denouement, like the exposition, portrays a miserable mood. The characters that Iona encounters in “Misery” demonstrate one of the story’s essential themes; “Human beings are indifferent to the sufferings of others” (Barnet Burto Cain 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 conflict of the story which is not resolved until the end. Iona asks himself, “Can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds fitl by heedless of him and his misery” (97). “His misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona’s heart were to burst and his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world” (97). Iona is very distressed from the death of his son and having no one to talk to about it certainly does not help. In order to alleviate his grief he continually attempts to talk to people about his loss. However, everyone he tries to talk to is indifferent to his suffering and the

Harris 2 story he is trying to tell. After one failed attempt to talk about his situation, Iona becomes overwhelmed by his anxiety. The story states “Again he is alone and again there is silence for him…. The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever” (97) Iona’s suffering appears to be somewhat relieved in the denouement when he is able to grieve by talking to a horse. This in turn helps Iona think about his son with less anxiety since “He cannot think about his son when 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 substitute for talking to his son or another person that would understand and care. This makes the ending 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 adds to the mood when the third-person narrator says, “It is a long time since Iona and his nag have 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 up with doing the same task repetitively, brave the cold, and serve customers that are rude and bossy to him. For example, one of his passengers, an officer, exclaims “You don’t know how to drive!” (95), while commanding him to keep to the right. When trying to talk to a hunchback, Iona says “This week…er…my…er…son died!” (96). The hunchback responds “We shall all die…come, drive on! Drive on! My friends, I simply cannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?” (96). Again, this demonstrates the passenger’s indifference, rudeness, and aggravation toward Iona who just wants someone to talk to about his grief. Even strangers who Iona passes while

Harris 3 driving his sledge are mean to him. For example, “A coachman driving a carriage swears at 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, you devil?” (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 as well. When first introduced Iona is described as “All white like a ghost” (94). The description reminds us of death. He appears this way since he is covered in snow which is 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 the indifferent and angry characters, sad conflict and cold dreary setting. Symbols of death, stagnation and suffering contribute to these themes greatly reinforcing the mood of the story. To some extent this mood of suffering is resolved in the end, but only a little.

Harris 4 Work Cited Chekhov, Anton. “Misery.” A Little Literature. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, William Burto, and William E. Cain. New York: Longman, 2007. 94-101

Harris 5 Literary Elements A Performance of Words Allegory Anecdote Antecedent Noun Anthropomorphic Auditor Characters Clarity Climax Complication Conflict Connotation Critical Thinking Delineate Denotation Diction Dramatic Irony Dramatic Monologue Editing Editorial Omniscience En Medias Res Epic Episodic Euphemism Evidence Explication Exposition Fable First-person Point of View Flat Characters Fly-on-the-Wall Narrator Foreshadowing Genre Hubris Informative Verbs Innocent Eye Interpretation Moral Motif Motivation Neutral Omniscience Non-participant Objective Point of View Omniscience

Harris 6 Organization Parable Participant Perfect Template Persuasive Argument Plot Point of Evidence Polish Resolution Round Characters Setting Stream of Consciousness Symbolism Syntax Theme Thesis Third-person Point of View Unreliable Narrators Unity Vanity

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