Dostoyevsky's The Christmas Tree and the Wedding: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:05 New Year's Party
  • 1:08 Social Status
  • 1:51 Yulian Mastakovich
  • 2:42 Greed
  • 3:35 The Wedding
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

The unknown narrator of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's ''The Christmas Tree and the Wedding'' tells a story about neither of these topics. Instead, the sight of a wedding reminds him of a New Year's party. This in turn comes full circle five years later.

New Year's Party

Parties are supposed to be fun. People socialize, drink too much, eat too much, or even make connections. In his short story, ''The Christmas Tree and the Wedding'', Fyodor Dostoevsky features a New Year's party as a backdrop as the events transpire into a nefarious proposal.

An unnamed narrator begins the story looking at a church. A wedding is taking place. Rather suddenly, he remembers a Christmas tree and party, and decides this new thought makes for a more interesting story. He will return to the wedding almost as an afterthought at the end of the tale.

The wedding becomes a frame, a literary term used to describe how one story serves as an introduction and conclusion for the embedded story. In this story, the emphasis falls on the story about the party, while the wedding opens and closes that story.

The narrator describes the events and people at the party, which ends up being a commentary about society. Although the party is primarily for the children, the adults use it as an excuse to converse openly and freely. Since the narrator claims to not know anyone, he fades into the background and begins his narrative.

Social Status

The narrator watches how social status plays an important part in how people relate to one another. Those with low finances tend to stand around and listen, while those with money become the center of attention.

This demarcation also appears in the gifts given to the children. When the presents are passed out ''they decrease in value in accordance with the decrease in the social rank of the parents of all these happy children.''A poor boy's gift is a ''book of stories. . . without pictures or even a tail-piece.''~

The narrator watches this boy and sees that he would like to play with the other kids. He can't, because ''he already felt and understood his position.''Even the children were already aware of their social status. He wanders off and finds a young girl, a girl who has a large dowry, playing with her new doll. He joins her.

Yulian Mastakovich

Yulian Mastakovich happens to be one of the more popular guests at the party, yet he holds himself aloof from others. He knows he's the center of much attention and loves every minute of it. When he hears that a young girl's dowry is 300,000 rubles, he becomes interested in who this girl might be.

He ''stands in meditation and does a sum on his fingers,''and he calculates the potential interest earned on the dowry over five years as 500,000 rubles total. His interest piqued, he searches for the girl so he can become acquainted with her.

When he finds her, he talks with her and shoos the boy off, but the children stay together. Yulian tries to kiss the girl, but the boy sees the girl is about to cry ''and he caught her hand and sobbed out loud in sympathy.'' Yulian is enraged and chases the boy about: ''So strong was his dislike (or perhaps jealousy) of the child that he actually began to carry on like a madman.'

Greed

Greed consumes Yulian, and he looks and acts ridiculous. All that matters to him is the 500,00 rubles. Although the young girl wants nothing to do with Yulian, this scene both overshadows and emphasizes an important thought from the narrator. Yulian doesn't see the girl as a person. He attempts to gain her trust and friendship, but ''he was so tempted by (the dowry). . . that he attempts to take the object of his desires by storm.''~

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