Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “A Trifling Occurrence,” Chekhov demonstrates his profound understanding of a child’s psychology. The story shows how impressionable children are. It also demonstrates that what may seem trivial to an adult can be of great significance to a child and may leave a lasting imprint. To depict this “common triviality” at work, Chekhov has chosen a collision of children’s emotions with a world of insincere and false relations—a world peopled by petty and dishonorable adults.

At first glance, the story may seem to be about Belyaev’s failure to keep his word with Alyosha, thereby insulting the child and putting him through an emotional trauma. Such a reading would lead one to conclude that Belyaev is the villain and Alyosha the injured innocent. On rereading the story, however, one discovers that the situation is far more complex. In fact, no one in this story is innocent, not even Alyosha. To a lesser or greater extent, everyone is guilty of contributing to the tragedy. If Belyaev appears to be all bad (which he is not), Alyosha and the others are certainly not all good. Early in the story, Belyaev looks at Alyosha and reflects: “A boy is stuck in front of your eyes, but what is he doing here, what is his role?—you don’t want to give a single thought to the question.” The key word here is “role.” A closer examination of the story reveals that all characters portrayed are guilty of role-playing rather than leading authentic lives. All of them are...

(The entire section is 607 words.)