Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The greatest artistic merit of the story lies in the author’s success in preventing a potentially dry and didactic matter from ruining the artistic truth of his story. To prevent his story from being little more than thinly veiled social criticism, he imbues it with a hefty dose of comedy. An illustration of this occurs when the thieves’ leader makes an impassioned plea for understanding, compassion, and plain justice, while Yasha plies his trade in the very room in which the plea is being made. When the lawyers and thieves leave the building after the thieves’ leader has convinced the lawyers of their right to be treated as “honest” citizens, Yasha again succumbs to natural impulses: He cannot resist swiping a hat from a volunteer. By skillfully using paradox, allegory, and humor Kuprin achieves his main purpose: to castigate the ruthless authorities assisted by the hypocrisy of the “respectable” members of the society.

An effective approach is a wry humor with which he endows the leader, Yasha, and other thieves. Speaking with a straight face, they make sly, witty remarks about the “honorable” society in which they live, and by which they are judged, which in turn makes even those being criticized accept the criticism in good humor.

Another effective method applied by Kuprin is the straight realistic approach to the story, despite its allegorical connotations. Both the thieves and the lawyers speak in a clear language, expressing easily comprehended thoughts. Even though the orator sometimes embellishes his speech with jests, allusions, and even sarcasm, his ideas come across well. Most important, however, the absurdity of the entire situation is clearly understood by the reader as an allegory, not just as an amusing story. In this way, Kuprin added his voice to a long line of Russian writers who spoke as a conscience of their people throughout centuries.