(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The ancestors of Tikhon and Kuzma Ilitch Krasoff are nothing to be proud of: Their great-grandfather had been hunted from Durnovka with wolfhounds, their grandfather had distinguished himself by becoming a thief, and their father, a petty huckster, had died early in life as a result of his drinking. The sons, after serving for a time as clerks in town stores, take to the road as itinerant peddlers. After they travel together for many years, their partnership is mutually dissolved during an argument over the division of profits. The two part very bitterly.

After the partnership is broken, Tikhon takes over a posting station a few miles from Durnovka, the little village where his family has lived for many generations. Along with the station, he operates a liquor dispensary and general mercantile establishment. Determined to become a man of some consequence, he begins to build up his fortune although he is already in his forties. He decides to follow the tax collectors and buy land at forced sales, and he pays the lowest possible prices for what he purchases.

Tikhon’s private life is anything but rich. He lives with his cook, a mute woman, who becomes the mother of his child. The child, however, is accidentally smothered, and soon afterward Tikhon sends the woman away and marries a noblewoman, by whom he tries to have children. His efforts, however, are fruitless, for the children are always born premature and dead. As if to make up, temporarily at least, for his wife’s failure to present him with children, fate gives Tikhon the opportunity of finishing off, economically speaking, the last member of the family that had held his own ancestors in serfdom through the previous centuries.

Life is not easy for Tikhon. A government order closes all the dramshops, including his, and makes liquor a state monopoly. Tikhon also continues to be disturbed by the fact that he has no children, as he believes this indicates his failure in life.

The summer following the government order closing his liquor business proves to be a bad one. There is no rain and it is very hot, so the grain harvest on his lands is only a fraction of what it should have been. During the fall, Tikhon goes to a fair to do some horse-trading, and while he is there he becomes disgusted with himself and with life in general, which suddenly seems pointless to him. He begins drinking heavily, downing immense quantities of vodka, although not enough to interfere with the conduct of his business.

Tikhon’s life is little affected by the war with Japan that breaks out soon afterward; he is more affected by persistent rumors of an attempt at a socialist revolution in the Russian legislative body. When he learns that the great landowners—those who own more than a thousand acres—are likely to have their estates taken from them for redistribution, he even begins to agitate a little for...

(The entire section is 1184 words.)