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Text of the Story

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"Like most people engaged in practical affairs, he did not know a single poem by heart, and could not remember a single fairy tale, so he had to improvise...."   (Text of the Story)

Because Yevgeny is “engaged in practical affairs,” he does not have the capability to think as creatively as a child might. In a final attempt to scare Seryozha from smoking, he tells a semi-autobiographical story. The fact that he cannot think of a purely original tale, and chooses instead to tell one almost identical to his own life, demonstrates his lack of imagination.

"That's why no one can take the place of a mother in bringing up a child, because she can feel, cry, and laugh together with the child. One can do nothing by logic and morality. What more shall I say to him? What?"..."   (Text of the Story)

Yevgeny associates emotion with femininity and logic with masculinity. Yevgeny admits that logic and morality are inadequate without emotional support. He fears that the lack of a mother, and the lack of emotional availability, may impede his son’s development. He recognizes that logic and imagination cannot function without the other.

"Death carries mothers and uncles off to the other world, while their children and violins remain upon the earth...."   (Text of the Story)

Seryozha’s naive and poetic understanding of death is captured in Chekhov’s imagery. He does not see death as final; rather, he envisions death as the transport of loved ones from the earth to the “sky beside the stars.”

"The living organism has the power of rapidly adapting itself, growing accustomed and inured to any atmosphere whatever, otherwise man would be bound to feel at every moment what an irrational basis there often is underlying his rational activity, and how little of established truth and certainty there is even in work so responsible and so terrible in its effects as that of the teacher, of the lawyer, of the writer. . . ...."   (Text of the Story)

Yevgeny makes sense of this human condition by employing dry, scientific diction. He describes people as “living organisms” and employs the phrases “irrational,” “rational,” “truth,” and “certainty.” The ellipsis at the end of this phrase also indicates that this is one of his meandering, internal thoughts. Yevgeny is prone to losing himself in his winding thought processes.

"This was probably a law of social life: the less an evil was understood, the more fiercely and coarsely it was attacked...."   (Text of the Story)

This maxim, concisely and effectively translated by Constance Garnett, exemplifies one of the major takeaways from Chekhov’s short story. Over the course of story, Yevgeny recognizes this irony in the situation with his son—how the more something is misunderstood, the more it is fought. The adverbs “fiercely” and “coarsely” indicate how sternly and forcefully these evils are challenged.

"Even very intelligent people did not scruple to wage war on a vice which they did not understand...."   (Text of the Story)

The verb “to scruple” means to hesitate to do something that one thinks may be morally wrong. Here, Yevgeny makes the distinction between those who fight what they do not understand and those who accept what they do not understand. At the beginning of the story, Yevgeny’s behavior mirrors those of the headmaster; he is unable to accept that his son would take up smoking. However, as the story progresses, he resigns himself to the fact that he cannot always control others. As a prosecutor, who is constantly arguing in support of his clients, this realization is hard for him to accept.

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