Misery by Anton Chekhov: Summary & Characters

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  • 0:04 Iona Potapov
  • 0:52 First Fare
  • 1:31 Second Fare
  • 2:35 A Willing Ear
  • 3:18 Analysis
  • 3:45 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.

Anton Chekhov's ''Misery'' explores human grief and the need for human compassion. When a cab driver attempts to talk about his son's death, he is rebuffed. But, he finds compassion in an unexpected way.

Iona Potapov

Grief can weigh heavily on people. To relieve the burden, people often seek out others with whom to share or talk about their feelings. Iona Potapov attempts to talk to others about his recent loss in Misery by Anton Chekhov. Iona Potapov's misery stems from the sudden death of his son one week ago. The story tells of his attempts to talk to others about his misery over the course of one evening.

Iona Potapov is an older man. As the story begins, he is described as 'all white like a ghost.' He sits alone is his horse-driven sleigh waiting for a fare. Snow is falling, and he lets it cover him while he sits 'bent as double as the living body can be bent.' Based on his body language and description, the reader can discern that Iona is suffering. He waits in silence for someone to talk to.

First Fare

Iona picks up a passenger, an officer 'in a military overcoat.' The officer gives Iona his destination, and then criticizes the way Iona drives the sleigh. Iona attempts to talk to the officer, only to be met with downcast eyes or disinterest. Eventually, Iona mentions that his son died this past week.

The officer asks how Iona's son died, but before the grieving father can complete his answer, the officer reminds him to keep his eyes on the road. The moment of compassion or sympathy has passed. The officer no longer shows any interest in talking to Iona. They arrive at the officer's destination, and Iona and his horse wait in the snow. Alone and in silence.

Second Fare

A couple of hours later, Iona is approached by more customers. Three obnoxious young men who want to go to the Police Bridge (now known as the Green Bridge). The most obnoxious of the three is a 'short and hunch backed' man who torments Iona throughout the trip, making fun of his dress and cursing at him 'till he chokes over some elaborately whimsical string of epithets.'

When Iona mentions that his son recently passed away, the hunchbacked young man simply replies that 'We shall all die.' Like the officer, he has no compassion or concern for Iona. The young men drift back into conversation among themselves, pausing only to berate Iona or slap him on the back of his neck. Iona endures the torment and accepts a meager twenty kopecks for his trouble.

Iona stops to watch the crowd go by, the misery welling up inside of him. He wonders why it is he can't find 'among those thousands someone who will listen to him.' Everyone around Iona has their own agenda and concerns and no time to listen to someone else. Even when Iona spots a house porter and asks him the time, the response is simply to move on.

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