This node is a review of Grisha
, a short story written by Russian author Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
is a story I struggle with because it seems to be somewhat contemptuous
towards its protagonist. Of course there may be some charm
in following a narration whose perspective is the confused, muddled thinking of a child that doesn't yet know much about the world that he lives in. Some people might smile when they read that Grisha thinks that his mom looks like the toy doll
under his bed. They might likewise chuckle
at Grisha's observation that the cat
that run arounds his room looks like his daddy's fur coat, with the difference being that the cat has eyes and a tail.
But to me it seems that Chekhov's narration of such thoughts
trivializes the child. Isn't after all more important for a reader to catch a glimpse into a child's thoughts about his parents, his affections for them, rather than reading about his thoughts on the way his parents visually resemble his toys
. Of course, its quite possible that children are curious little critters who love to observe things and compare and contrast them. But in focusing on such minituae running through the child's mind to the exclusion of details that describe his relationship to his parents, it seems to me that Chekhov unwittingly turns Grisha into a little hedonist
who cares about little else than his own sensations
. When Grisha remarks that he knows what his nanny and mother are there for, to feed him and lay him down to sleep, it's evident that he views them in terms of what they can do for him but has little interest for their individuality. The father gets an even worse treatment; Grisha is puzzled by why he's there at all, since he doesn't feed him or put him to sleep.
Nonwithstanding the critique of Grisha as a purely self involved character, his attention to all kinds of minituae can be amusing. For example, as he is walking with his nanny on the boulevard, he sees two cats with stuck out tongue
s and stiffly raised tail
s running past him. Apparently a copycat, little Grisha decides he should also take up running like them. It's a wonder that he doesn't take the copycatting all the way and stick out his tongue while running, while at the same time wishing that he also had a tail
that he could raise into a stiff position.
It's not all fun and games for Grisha however, as some sensations are more threatening
than pleasurable. For example, when a group of red faced soldiers walks by him on the boulevard, with "banya brooms" tucked under their shoulders, Grisha breaks out into a cold sweat
and looks questioningly at his nanny
, in the hope she would reassure him that the soldiers
are not as dangerous
as they seem.
But despite a scare here and there, Grisha is taking in the sensations of the world and enjoying it thoroughly. When a man introduces himself to his nanny, Grisha stares at his brightly shining buttons
and is enraptured by them. Of course, as expected, our little hedonist shows absolutely no interest in the man himself; the buttons alone suffice to capture all of Grisha's attention. He also can't take his eyes off the horses in passing by carriages
, their huge and powerful legs
make quite an impression on him. The narrator tells us that as a collective force, the observations of shiny sunlight
, the noise of horse drawn carriages, and those mysterious legs that propel the vehicles, fill Grisha's soul with such an inordinate feeling of pleasure
that he loses control of himself and begins to laugh involuntarily
Another overwhelming sensation that Grisha is occasionally filled by is that of an urgent desire to eat
thing he happens to come across. As he breaks away from his nanny and walks by himself through the boulevard, he spots another child's nanny sitting on a bench and holding a with a small box of orange
s. Grisha immediately grabs the orange without bothering to ask the lady for permission. He would have eaten it right there and then, had his nanny
not caught up with him. A little upset by her charge, the nanny slapped Grisha on the wrist and grabbed the fruit
away from him. She also told him off for it, sternly reproaching him "Now why did you do that, you little idiot!"
But this isn't the only time that Grisha follws his foodlust
and makes an impatient grab for food
. Later in the day, when Grisha accompanies his nanny to visit the home of the man with the brightly shinung buttons, he sees cake being served and stretches his hands to rip out a piece. Fortunately before his grubby paws manage to rip into the cake, his nanny cuts him a sliver and serves it to him on a plate.
If readers found Grisha to be overly self involved and hedonistic, they'll be happy to know that he got his comeuppance
for it in the end. His greed
for new sensations kept him turning and tossing in bed that night as he was haunted by images of soldiers
with banya brooms
, cats with stuck out tongues and stiffly raised tails, oranges, and bright buttons. His sleeplessness
frustrated little Grisha and eventually made him cry out in tears. His mother who came to visit him after hearing him cry, concluded that her son had a fever
and plied him with castor oil
Disclaimer: I have not detailed every object of Grisha's fascinated observations in this writeup. I have omitted quite a few, but if you wish to know absolutely every one of them, I advise you to read the short story.
a "banya brook" or a "venik" is used by men in public bathhouses to beat the sweaty hot back during a post-bathing sauna session.