"Home"

"SOMEONE came from the Grigoryevs' to fetch a book, but I said you were not at home. The postman brought the newspaper and two letters. By the way, Yevgeny Petrovitch, I should like to ask you to speak to Seryozha. To-day, and the day before yesterday, I have noticed that he is smoking. When I began to expostulate with him, he put his fingers in his ears as usual, and sang loudly to drown my voice."

Yevgeny Petrovitch Bykovsky, the prosecutor of the circuit court, who had just come back from a session and was taking off his gloves in his study, looked at the governess as she made her report, and laughed.

"Seryozha smoking . . ." he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I can picture the little cherub with a cigarette in his mouth! Why, how old is he?"

"Seven. You think it is not important, but at his age smoking is a bad and pernicious habit, and bad habits ought to be eradicated in the beginning."

"Perfectly true. And where does he get the tobacco?"

"He takes it from the drawer in your table."

"Yes? In that case, send him to me."

When the governess had gone out, Bykovsky sat down in an arm-chair before his writing-table, shut his eyes, and fell to thinking. He pictured his Seryozha with a huge cigar, a yard long, in the midst of clouds of tobacco smoke, and this caricature made him smile; at the same time, the grave, troubled face of the governess called up memories of the long past, half-forgotten time when smoking aroused in his teachers and parents a strange, not quite intelligible horror. It really was horror. Children were mercilessly flogged and expelled from school, and their lives were made a misery on account of smoking, though not a single teacher or father knew exactly what was the harm or sinfulness of smoking. Even very intelligent people did not scruple to wage war on a vice which they did not understand. Yevgeny Petrovitch remembered the head-master of the high school, a very cultured and good-natured old man, who was so appalled when he found a high-school boy with a cigarette in his mouth that he turned pale, immediately summoned an emergency committee of the teachers, and sentenced the sinner to expulsion. This was probably a law of social life: the less an evil was understood, the more fiercely and coarsely it was attacked.

The prosecutor remembered two or three boys who had been expelled and their subsequent life, and could not help thinking that very often the punishment did a great deal more harm than the crime itself. 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. . . .

And such light and discursive thoughts as visit the brain only when it is weary and resting began straying through Yevgeny Petrovitch's head; there is no telling whence and why they come, they do not remain long in the mind, but seem to glide over its surface without sinking deeply into it. For people who are forced for whole hours, and even days, to think by routine in one direction, such free private thinking affords a kind of comfort, an agreeable solace.

It was between eight and nine o'clock in the evening. Overhead, on the second storey, someone was walking up and down, and on the floor above that four hands were playing scales. The pacing of the man overhead who, to judge from his nervous step, was thinking of something harassing, or was suffering from toothache, and the monotonous scales gave the stillness of the evening a drowsiness that disposed to lazy reveries. In the nursery, two rooms away, the governess and Seryozha were talking.

"Pa-pa has come!" carolled the child. "Papa has co-ome. Pa! Pa! Pa!"

"Votre père vous appelle, allez vite!" cried the governess, shrill as a frightened bird. "I am speaking to you!"

"What am I to say to him, though?" Yevgeny Petrovitch wondered.

But before he had time to think of anything whatever his son Seryozha, a boy of seven, walked into the study.

He was a child whose sex could only have been guessed from his dress: weakly, white-faced, and fragile. He was limp like a hot-house plant, and everything about him seemed extraordinarily soft and tender: his movements, his curly hair, the look in his eyes, his velvet jacket.

"Good evening, papa!" he said, in a soft voice, clambering on to his father's knee and giving him a rapid kiss on his neck. "Did you send for me?"

"Excuse me, Sergey Yevgenitch," answered the prosecutor, removing him from his knee. "Before kissing we must have a talk, and a serious talk . . . I am angry with you, and don't love you any more. I tell you, my boy, I don't love you, and you are no son of mine. . . ."

Seryozha looked intently at his father, then shifted his eyes to the table, and shrugged his shoulders.

"What have I done to you?" he asked in perplexity, blinking. "I haven't been in your study all day, and I haven't touched anything."

"Natalya Semyonovna has just been complaining to me that you have been smoking. . . . Is it true? Have you been smoking?"

"Yes, I did smoke once. . . . That's true. . . ."

"Now you see you are lying as well," said the prosecutor, frowning to disguise a smile. "Natalya Semyonovna has seen you smoking twice. So you see you have been detected in three misdeeds: smoking, taking someone else's tobacco, and lying. Three faults."

"Oh yes," Seryozha recollected, and his eyes smiled. "That's true, that's true; I smoked twice: to-day and before."

"So you see it was not once, but twice. . . . I am very, very much displeased with you! You used to be a good boy, but now I see you are spoilt and have become a bad one."

Yevgeny Petrovitch smoothed down Seryozha's collar and thought:

"What more am I to say to him!"

"Yes, it's not right," he continued. "I did not expect it of you. In the first place, you ought not to take tobacco that does not belong to you. Every person has only the right to make use of his own property; if he takes anyone else's . . . he is a bad man!" ("I am not saying the right thing!" thought Yevgeny Petrovitch.) "For instance, Natalya Semyonovna has a box with her clothes in it. That's her box, and we—that is, you and I—dare not touch it, as it is not ours. That's right, isn't it? You've got toy horses and pictures. . . . I don't take them, do I? Perhaps I might like to take them, but . . . they are not mine, but yours!"

"Take them if you like!" said Seryozha, raising his eyebrows. "Please don't hesitate, papa, take them! That yellow dog on your table is mine, but I don't mind. . . . Let it stay."

"You don't understand me," said Bykovsky. "You have given me the dog, it is mine now and I can do what I like with it; but I didn't give you the tobacco! The tobacco is mine." ("I am not explaining properly!" thought the prosecutor. "It's wrong! Quite wrong!") "If I want to smoke someone else's tobacco, I must first of all ask his permission. . . ."

Languidly linking one phrase on to another and imitating the language of the nursery, Bykovsky tried to explain to his son the meaning of property. Seryozha gazed at his chest and listened attentively (he liked talking to his father in the evening), then he leaned his elbow on the edge of the table and began screwing up his short-sighted eyes at the papers and the inkstand. His eyes strayed over the table and rested on the gum-bottle.

"Papa, what is gum made of?" he asked suddenly, putting the bottle to his eyes.

Bykovsky took the bottle out of his hands and set it in its place and went on:

"Secondly, you smoke. . . . That's very bad. Though I smoke it does not follow that you may. I smoke and know that it is stupid, I blame myself and don't like myself for it." ("A clever teacher, I am!" he thought.) "Tobacco is very bad for the health, and anyone who smokes dies earlier than he should. It's particularly bad for boys like you to smoke. Your chest is weak, you haven't reached your full strength yet, and smoking leads to consumption and other illness in weak people. Uncle Ignat died of consumption, you know. If he hadn't smoked, perhaps he would have lived till now."

Seryozha looked pensively at the lamp, touched the lamp-shade with his finger, and heaved a sigh.

"Uncle Ignat played the violin splendidly!" he said. "His violin is at the Grigoryevs' now."

Seryozha leaned his elbows on the edge of the table again, and sank into thought. His white face wore a fixed expression, as though he were listening or following a train of thought of his own; distress and something like fear came into his big staring eyes. He was most likely thinking now of death, which had so lately carried off his mother and Uncle Ignat. Death carries mothers and uncles off to the other world, while their children and violins remain upon the earth. The dead live somewhere in the sky beside the stars, and look down from there upon the earth. Can they endure the parting?

"What am I to say to him?" thought Yevgeny Petrovitch. "He's not listening to me. Obviously he does not regard either his misdoings or my arguments as serious. How am I to drive it home?"

The prosecutor got up and walked about the study.

"Formerly, in my time, these questions were very simply settled," he reflected. "Every urchin who was caught smoking was thrashed. The cowardly and faint-hearted did actually give up smoking, any who were somewhat more plucky and intelligent, after the thrashing took to carrying tobacco in the legs of their boots, and smoking in the barn. When they were caught in the barn and thrashed again, they would go away to smoke by the river . . . and so on, till the boy grew up. My mother used to give me money and sweets not to smoke. Now that method is looked upon as worthless and immoral. The modern teacher, taking his stand on logic, tries to make the child form good principles, not from fear, nor from desire for distinction or reward, but consciously."

While he was walking about, thinking, Seryozha climbed up with his legs on a chair sideways to the table, and began drawing. That he might not spoil official paper nor touch the ink, a heap of half-sheets, cut on purpose for him, lay on the table together with a blue pencil.

"Cook was chopping up cabbage to-day and she cut her finger," he said, drawing a little house and moving his eyebrows. "She gave such a scream that we were all frightened and ran into the kitchen. Stupid thing! Natalya Semyonovna told her to dip her finger in cold water, but she sucked it . . . And how could she put a dirty finger in her mouth! That's not proper, you know, papa!"

Then he went on to describe how, while they were having dinner, a man with a hurdy-gurdy had come into the yard with a little girl, who had danced and sung to the music.

"He has his own train of thought!" thought the prosecutor. "He has a little world of his own in his head, and he has his own ideas of what is important and unimportant. To gain possession of his attention, it's not enough to imitate his language, one must also be able to think in the way he does. He would understand me perfectly if I really were sorry for the loss of the tobacco, if I felt injured and cried. . . . 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?"

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.

"I say, give me your word of honour that you won't smoke again," he said.

"Word of hon-nour!" carolled Seryozha, pressing hard on the pencil and bending over the drawing. "Word of hon-nour!"

"Does he know what is meant by word of honour?" Bykovsky asked himself. "No, I am a poor teacher of morality! If some schoolmaster or one of our legal fellows could peep into my brain at this moment he would call me a poor stick, and would very likely suspect me of unnecessary subtlety. . . . But in school and in court, of course, all these wretched questions are far more simply settled than at home; here one has to do with people whom one loves beyond everything, and love is exacting and complicates the question. If this boy were not my son, but my pupil, or a prisoner on his trial, I should not be so cowardly, and my thoughts would not be racing all over the place!"

Yevgeny Petrovitch sat down to the table and pulled one of Seryozha's drawings to him. In it there was a house with a crooked roof, and smoke which came out of the chimney like a flash of lightning in zigzags up to the very edge of the paper; beside the house stood a soldier with dots for eyes and a bayonet that looked like the figure 4.

"A man can't be taller than a house," said the prosecutor.

Seryozha got on his knee, and moved about for some time to get comfortably settled there.

"No, papa!" he said, looking at his drawing. "If you were to draw the soldier small you would not see his eyes."

Ought he to argue with him? From daily observation of his son the prosecutor had become convinced that children, like savages, have their own artistic standpoints and requirements peculiar to them, beyond the grasp of grown-up people. Had he been attentively observed, Seryozha might have struck a grown-up person as abnormal. He thought it possible and reasonable to draw men taller than houses, and to represent in pencil, not only objects, but even his sensations. Thus he would depict the sounds of an orchestra in the form of smoke like spherical blurs, a whistle in the form of a spiral thread. . . . To his mind sound was closely connected with form and colour, so that when he painted letters he invariably painted the letter L yellow, M red, A black, and so on.

Abandoning his drawing, Seryozha shifted about once more, got into a comfortable attitude, and busied himself with his father's beard. First he carefully smoothed it, then he parted it and began combing it into the shape of whiskers.

"Now you are like Ivan Stepanovitch," he said, "and in a minute you will be like our porter. Papa, why is it porters stand by doors? Is it to prevent thieves getting in?"

The prosecutor felt the child's breathing on his face, he was continually touching his hair with his cheek, and there was a warm soft feeling in his soul, as soft as though not only his hands but his whole soul were lying on the velvet of Seryozha's jacket.

He looked at the boy's big dark eyes, and it seemed to him as though from those wide pupils there looked out at him his mother and his wife and everything that he had ever loved.

"To think of thrashing him . . ." he mused. "A nice task to devise a punishment for him! How can we undertake to bring up the young? In old days people were simpler and thought less, and so settled problems boldly. But we think too much, we are eaten up by logic . . . . The more developed a man is, the more he reflects and gives himself up to subtleties, the more undecided and scrupulous he becomes, and the more timidity he shows in taking action. How much courage and self-confidence it needs, when one comes to look into it closely, to undertake to teach, to judge, to write a thick book. . . ."

It struck ten.

"Come, boy, it's bedtime," said the prosecutor. "Say good-night and go."

"No, papa," said Seryozha, "I will stay a little longer. Tell me something! Tell me a story. . . ."

"Very well, only after the story you must go to bed at once."

Yevgeny Petrovitch on his free evenings was in the habit of telling Seryozha stories. 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. As a rule he began with the stereotyped: "In a certain country, in a certain kingdom," then he heaped up all kinds of innocent nonsense and had no notion as he told the beginning how the story would go on, and how it would end. Scenes, characters, and situations were taken at random, impromptu, and the plot and the moral came of itself as it were, with no plan on the part of the story-teller. Seryozha was very fond of this improvisation, and the prosecutor noticed that the simpler and the less ingenious the plot, the stronger the impression it made on the child.

"Listen," he said, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "Once upon a time, in a certain country, in a certain kingdom, there lived an old, very old emperor with a long grey beard, and . . . and with great grey moustaches like this. Well, he lived in a glass palace which sparkled and glittered in the sun, like a great piece of clear ice. The palace, my boy, stood in a huge garden, in which there grew oranges, you know . . . bergamots, cherries . . . tulips, roses, and lilies-of-the-valley were in flower in it, and birds of different colours sang there. . . . Yes. . . . On the trees there hung little glass bells, and, when the wind blew, they rang so sweetly that one was never tired of hearing them. Glass gives a softer, tenderer note than metals. . . . Well, what next? There were fountains in the garden. . . . Do you remember you saw a fountain at Auntie Sonya's summer villa? Well, there were fountains just like that in the emperor's garden, only ever so much bigger, and the jets of water reached to the top of the highest poplar."

Yevgeny Petrovitch thought a moment, and went on:

"The old emperor had an only son and heir of his kingdom—a boy as little as you. He was a good boy. He was never naughty, he went to bed early, he never touched anything on the table, and altogether he was a sensible boy. He had only one fault, he used to smoke. . . ."

Seryozha listened attentively, and looked into his father's eyes without blinking. The prosecutor went on, thinking: "What next?" He spun out a long rigmarole, and ended like this:

"The emperor's son fell ill with consumption through smoking, and died when he was twenty. His infirm and sick old father was left without anyone to help him. There was no one to govern the kingdom and defend the palace. Enemies came, killed the old man, and destroyed the palace, and now there are neither cherries, nor birds, nor little bells in the garden. . . . That's what happened."

This ending struck Yevgeny Petrovitch as absurd and naïve, but the whole story made an intense impression on Seryozha. Again his eyes were clouded by mournfulness and something like fear; for a minute he looked pensively at the dark window, shuddered, and said, in a sinking voice:

"I am not going to smoke any more. . . ."

When he had said good-night and gone away his father walked up and down the room and smiled to himself.

"They would tell me it was the influence of beauty, artistic form," he meditated. "It may be so, but that's no comfort. It's not the right way, all the same. . . . Why must morality and truth never be offered in their crude form, but only with embellishments, sweetened and gilded like pills? It's not normal. . . . It's falsification . . . deception . . . tricks . . . ."

He thought of the jurymen to whom it was absolutely necessary to make a "speech," of the general public who absorb history only from legends and historical novels, and of himself and how he had gathered an understanding of life not from sermons and laws, but from fables, novels, poems.

"Medicine should be sweet, truth beautiful, and man has had this foolish habit since the days of Adam . . . though, indeed, perhaps it is all natural, and ought to be so. . . . There are many deceptions and delusions in nature that serve a purpose."

He set to work, but lazy, intimate thoughts still strayed through his mind for a good while. Overhead the scales could no longer be heard, but the inhabitant of the second storey was still pacing from one end of the room to another.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. These last sounds echo Yevgeny’s musings. After Seryozha heads to bed, the sound of the lulling piano quiets; all that remains, is the sound of the metronomic, ordered pacing. This final image lends to a sense of harmony after Yevgeny is able to convince Seryozha to stop smoking.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Adam, the first human created according to Jewish and Christian theology, serves as a biblical allusion to the Genesis story, which details the creation of earth and humankind. By mentioning Adam, Yevgeny speaks to the universality and timelessness of storytelling.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. A juryman is synonymous with a juror, or member of a jury. Yevgeny draws parallels between the courtroom experience, where jurymen hear elaborate “speeches” (which Chekhov places in quotes) and how children learn from folklore and literature.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. An “embellishment” is a detail added to a statement or story to make it more interesting or entertaining. Here, Yevgeny laments that morality must be dressed up in the form of stories and anecdotes. He would prefer morality to come in “crude form,” or in other words, as laws and decrees.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The adverb “pensively” describes thinking in a dreamy or wistful manner. While Yevgeny’s story is devoid of any creativity, Seryozha still looks up to his father with wide-eyed wonderment and curiosity.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. A “rigmarole” is defined as an unintelligible, confusing story. This term is appropriate here because of how Yevgeny fumbles along as he tells his story. His word choice is very cut and dry, and as soon as he finishes his story, he bluntly concludes, “That’s what happened.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The adjective “scrupulous” describes acting in a way that is considered morally correct. Yevgeny’s pithy remark demonstrates his respect for those who try to understand people unlike themselves. While some people resort to “thrashing” children who misbehave, he says that other people learn to reflect and empathize with them instead.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The word “savage” has a couple of meanings in this context. First, it describes a wild, undomesticated animal, and second, it refers to a primitive, uncivilized person. Both definitions have unpleasant social associations. By comparing children to “savages,” Yevgeny reduces them to animalistic, barbaric, and primitive others.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. It is worth noting that Seryozha chooses to draw a house. The image of a house, in his mind, is one of disproportionality, color, and a bit of chaos. Yevgeny does not identify his concept of a house with this image. If Yevgeny were to draw a house, readers might imagine that it would be perfectly angular and devoid of any character.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Yevgeny’s world is like a courtroom: one of logic, order, and methodology. He cannot comprehend why his son would draw something so unlike his reality and finds fault with the crooked roof, the zigzagging lightning bolt, and the soldier who stands taller than a house. In his effort to understand the drawing, Yevgeny even compares the shape of the bayonet to the shape of the number four. In contrast, Seryozha makes sense of the disproportionally large soldier, because, he claims, that if he drew the soldier any smaller, “you would not see his eyes.” While Yevgeny cannot fathom a world of disorder, Seryozha finds logic in it.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. A hurdy-gurdy is an instrument played by turning a crank handle. In the original Russian, Chekhov uses the word “шарманщик” which translates to “organ grinder,” a type of hurdy-gurdy. Seryozha’s train of thought, unlike his father’s linear way of thinking, jumps from one topic to the next. Here, his mind wanders to the organ grinder and the dancing girl.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. 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.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. This parenthetical interjection, unlike the others, employs irony. Yevgeny is attempting to prevent his son from smoking, despite the fact that he smokes himself. Yevgeny recognizes that his logic is irrational, and jokes to himself about how clever he is.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. This youthful interjection by Seryozha stands in stark contrast to his father’s lesson. Yevgeny does not indulge in his son’s irrelevant questioning and instead continues to instill his lesson on the dangers of smoking. As a trained prosecutor, Yevgeny is used to arguing and speaking over others. He has no time to entertain his son’s tangent.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. The verb “to thrash” means to beat someone or something over and over again. Yevgeny uses this word to describe how “urchins” were beat up when they were caught smoking. He repeats the word three times throughout this paragraph, perhaps to insist on the severity of the punishment.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. The original Russian word Chekhov uses here, "мальчуга,” is a diminutive form of the word “boy.” Garnett has translated it to “urchin” which refers to a mischievous and often-poorly clothed youngster that annoys others. Both the Russian term and its English translation describe a child who was caught smoking in negative terms.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. This is the first instance of an interjection formatted within parentheses. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Chekhov’s literary predecessor, was one of the first authors to use parenthetical interjections. For example, in Dostoevsky's novella Notes from Underground (1864), the author inserts parentheses to speak directly to the reader. In Chekhov’s story, the internal monologues, some of which are formatted within parentheses, have a similar effect. They provide space for asides and digressions that allow the reader to glimpse into the internal dialogue of a character’s mind.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. This description plays into the image of the boy as an Edenic, virginal cherub. All of these descriptors associate the boy with purity and fragility. Everything about him is soft, down to the velvet on his jacket. He is even likened to a “hot-house plant,” which is a sort of plant that requires certain greenhouse conditions to survive. With the use of this simile, Chekhov suggests that Seryozha needs a nurturing environment in order to flourish.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. “Votre père vous appelle, allez vite!” — [French] “Your father is calling you, go quickly!” The original Russian text included this French phrase, as is. Russian readers, especially of the higher classes, were well-versed in French and did not require translation. France’s long-standing influence in Russian stemmed from Peter the Great and Catherine II’s efforts to open Russia toward Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The elite Russian class adopted the French language for daily correspondence and read works by such renowned French authors as Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac. During the time of Chekhov’s writing, France and Russia held mutual interests in Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1893, the two countries forged their economic relationship with the French-Russian military pact. The use of French and the presence of a French-speaking governess demonstrate the family’s elite status within society.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. The word “reveries” is synonymous with “daydreams.” This passage suggests a dichotomy between the two main characters’ ways of thinking. The nervous pacing heard overhead stands in stark contrast to the lulling, monotonous, dream-like piano scales. Perhaps these two opposing sounds mirror the father’s logic against the son’s vivid imagination.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. Of a sound, the adjective “monotonous” describes unvarying volume, tone, or pitch. Monotony connotes both repetitiveness, as well as soothing, calming sounds, such as those heard in a lullaby. The monotony of the scales, heard overhead, contribute to a calming, homely feel.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  27. The noun “solace” refers to comfort during a distressing or uncomfortable period. Yevgeny uses this word to describe the sense of peace he feels when he returns home from work. He describes work in very linear and ordered terms, as thinking “in one direction” for days on end. In contrast, he describes being home as a time for relaxation and reflection.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  28. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  29. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  30. 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.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  31. The verb “to flog” means to beat repeatedly with a whip. Yevgeny recalls his childhood, where students were “mercilessly flogged and expelled” for smoking. This violent practice highlights the hypocrisy of teachers and adults: they do not understand the dangers of smoking, yet they violently punish the guilty children anyway.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  32. A “caricature” is a picture or representation of a person in which certain major characteristics are exaggerated to create a comic or grotesque effect. When Yevgeny learns that his son has taken up smoking, his first response—to imagine his son as a pipe-smoking caricature—is a lighthearted one. He quickly changes his mind, however, and recognizes the serious effects of smoking.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  33. The adjective “pernicious” describes something that causes harm in an insidious way. The governess believes that Seryozha is actively causing self-harm by taking up such a “bad and pernicious habit.”

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  34. In 1864, nearly twenty-five years before Chekhov published this short story, Tsar Alexander II approved the Judicial Reform Act, which became the basis for the modern Russian court system. The Reform Act divided the courts into “inferior” and “ordinary” courts. Inferior courts, made up of Justices of the Peace, were the courts of first instance. Cases heard here were appealed to the Sessions of the Peace and the Senate. The ordinary courts, which included the circuit courts, covered several districts and had larger jurisdiction over the more important civil and criminal cases, including labor, employment, family, inheritance, and consumer issues. Circuit-court cases could be appealed to the Sudebnaya Palata (судебная палата) and the Senate. As a prosecutor for the circuit court, Yevgeny would likely oversee many of these important cases on a day-to-day basis.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  35. The verb “to expostulate” has two different meanings: to reason with someone in a friendly manner for the purpose of dissuasion, or to debate or argue disapprovingly for the purpose of dissuasion. In this context, the governess uses a more aggressive, chastising method of expostulation in an effort to get Seryozha to admit to his bad behavior.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  36. Seryozha’s name (Серёжа) is a diminutive form of the common Russian name “Sergey” (Сергей). Yevgeny calls his son by this diminutive pet name, which indicates the informality and closeness of their relationship. Later on in the story, however, when Yevgeny tries to chastise his son for his behavior, he calls his son by his proper name, including Seyozha’s patronymic (“Sergey Yevgenitch”), to assert his authority.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  37. Yevgeny’s full name includes his first name, patronymic, and family name. A long-form name is generally found on official Russian paperwork. However, in this case, Chekhov uses Yevgeny’s complete name, in addition to his job title, to signify two things: the character’s genealogy and his status within society.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  38. The first speaker, who we shortly learn is Natalya Semyonovna, the governess, addresses Yevgeny by both his first and patronymic names. In Russian, a patronymic is derived from the first name of the child’s father—in this case, “Petr.” A patronymic often accompanies a first name as a sign of respect or distance. In this case, the employee addressing her employer.

    — Tess, Owl Eyes Staff
  39. The original Russian word here “karapuz” (карапуз) more literally translates to a little fellow or toddler. Garnett has translated it as “cherub,” which means a child-like angel. Both choices illustrate how Yevgeny Petrovitch views his son as a young, innocent little boy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor