What is the summary and theme of the story The Little Orphan by Fuodor Dotoevsky?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story "The Little Orphan" is a wonderful Christmas tale of mercy, love and redemption. A young boy in a bitterly cold cellar in winter-time St. Petersburg awakens to darkness, hunger, cold, fears and a mother who lays sick and dying. They had come to St. Petersburg for some unstated reason from a quiet village where the boy was loved, warm, fed and cared for.

The day passes. In the darkness he discovers his cap and the cold immovable body of she who was his mother. He is an orphan, though he wouldn't have understood this at age six. Since he now has his cap with which to cover his head, he ventures out, daring to pass the barking dog who stands guard next door. On the street he finds more threatening barking dogs in the form of dogs, hurrying people, freezing horses, carelessly fast carriages and lights everywhere.
He also finds the wonders of St. Petersburg: clean and happy children who dance and sing, Christmas trees six feet high, food in abundance shared with generosity between those within doors, toys that are so real they seem to be alive and generosity (though it sadly is misguided and goes awry). Afterward, he suffers from an attack by a big boy who hurts him and steals his cap.

In terror, he gets up from the pavement and runs until he finds a barrel to hide behind where, in his fear and cold, he sinks into a pleasant sleep that is disturbed by a gentle voice as he is scooped up in loving arms and deposited with other children who are happy and making merry. Their mothers are there also, weeping for their children or weeping for joy at their children's salvation from cold and want? Forgiveness is the mothers' gift to receive at this Christmas celebration for dead orphans, Mercy is the Benefactress, Jesus is the Host and Redemption is the Celebration; and this is the theme of "The Little Orphan." Dostoevsky often championed marginalised women in his writings as with Katrina Ivanova and Sonia in Crime and Punishment.

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