Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Bishop,” Chekhov’s penultimate short story, is the tragedy of a member of the intelligentsia whose pursuit of a highly successful clerical career cuts him off from genuine human intercourse. Not until he faces death does the bishop realize that something important is missing from his life—namely, a love and respect for himself, not for his rank. His existential feeling of loneliness and isolation is evidenced by his thoughts: “If only there were one person to whom I could have talked, have opened my heart.”

The bishop has two identities: a private one associated with Pavlushka, the name from his youth, and a public one associated with his present name, Bishop Pyotr. He has been unable, however, to defend this private identity against the forces of his career. His mother’s nearness during the last week of his life (after a nine-year separation for which he must share the blame) has made him painfully aware of the lack of genuine love and closeness in his life. Even his mother addresses him with the formal “you” and “Your Holiness.”

Now that he is dying, he wishes to return to the simple existence of his youth (clearly a Tolstoyan idea). His metamorphosis occurs both physically and spiritually. He imagines that he has become thinner, shorter, and more insignificant than anyone (the Latin root of Pavlushka means “little”). The bishop and his mother agree, whereupon his mother kisses him, calling him Pavlushka and...

(The entire section is 436 words.)