Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alexander Pushkin’s attitude toward religion was skeptical, to say the least; among his writings are works that would be considered blasphemous or irreverent by any standard. In this story, the author uses two New Testament parables—those of the prodigal son and the good shepherd—as contrasts to the reality of the station-master’s life.

On his first visit, the narrator sees the four pictures depicting the tale of the prodigal son and recalls the story behind each picture. On his second visit, the narrator again notes the presence of the pictures, thus reminding the reader of the parable. Dunya’s experiences and character are quite different from those of the errant son; while the latter is a fool who contributes nothing to his father’s work and desires only to spend his inheritance in riotous living, Dunya is the mainstay of her father’s station and goes to St. Petersburg reluctantly. The son is depicted with loose women, while Dunya maintains a monogamous relationship with the man she loves. When the son runs out of money, his friends abandon him; he is forced to live with pigs and to eat their food. Dunya, on the other hand, is not abandoned, but rather lives comfortably with a man who loves her very deeply.

The big difference between Pushkin’s story and the parable is the delusion of the father, perhaps caused by his viewing of the pictures every day and presuming that reality will parallel what he has read in the Scriptures. Samson persists in believing that his daughter will come to the same end as the prodigal son. He does not wait for his daughter to come home, but seeks her out. When his attempts are unsuccessful, he returns home and drinks himself to death. Dunya does return...

(The entire section is 705 words.)