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Themes in Home

Storytelling as Learning: Although “Home” is a relatively short story, it speaks to universal and timeless themes. Through the relationship between father and son, Chekhov explores how we know what we know. He asks us to question how we learn, and to consider whether or not storytelling is a viable method for imparting and acquiring knowledge. At first, Yevgeny is reluctant to trust a method other than the didactic and “crude” ways he has learned. Only after seeing the effects of storytelling on his son, does he realize that storytelling has a purpose beyond entertainment.

Reconciling Logic and Imagination: By the end of the story, Chekhov establishes that knowledge can come from many sources—from laws and codes, as well as folklore and fiction. Logic cannot function without imagination, and imagination cannot function without logic. When facts and figures do not successfully convince Seryozha of the dangers of smoking, Yevgeny turns to fantasy and tells a story. This story is partially rooted in reality, since it is semi-autobiographical, and demonstrates how knowledge can be conveyed as a combination of fact and fiction.

Themes Examples in Home:

Text of the Story

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"home..."   (Text of the Story)

The Russian word “дома” (doma) roughly translates to “at home.” Chekhov’s short story can be found with both variants of the translation. Some English translations title the short story, “Home,” while others title it, “At Home.” The latter title should not be confused with Chekhov’s 1897 story under the same name, first published in Later Short Stories, 1888-1903. The word, “home,” has several important connotations in the context of this story. First, it signifies a place of dwelling and shelter. Second, it connotes a sense of familiarity between individuals. In Chekhov’s story, the sense of home stems from the father-son relationship which strengthens over the course of the story.

"And it struck Yevgeny Petrovitch as strange and absurd that he, an experienced advocate, who spent half his life in the practice of reducing people to silence, forestalling what they had to say, and punishing them, was completely at a loss and did not know what to say to the boy...."   (Text of the Story)

Yevgeny is incredulous that his son could puzzle him, an accomplished and skillful prosecutor. He is overcome with a sense of confusion as he tries to reconcile two seemingly opposing concepts: logic and imagination. Eventually, as he speaks further with his son, he recognizes that these two seemingly opposing things are not mutually exclusive, but rather, compatible. Logic is nothing without imagination, and vice versa.

"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.

"It was between eight and nine o'clock in the evening...."   (Text of the Story)

Throughout this passage, Yevgeny describes his surroundings in terms of numbers: it is between eight and nine in the evening; on the second story, four hands play piano; and in the nursery, two rooms away, the governess and Seryozha speak. Other notable uses of numbers throughout the story include Seryozha’s age and how, when Yevgenys looks at his son’s drawing, he likens the shape of the bayonet to the figure of a number four. The interplay of numbers throughout the story demonstrates Yevgeny’s ordered mode of thought. Because of his profession, Yevgeny spends the whole day thinking in “one direction.” Even after leaving the order of the courtroom, he cannot help but describe his home environment in these structured, numerical terms.

"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.

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