Anton Chekhov wrote that “The Student” was his favorite short story that he had written. He gave no reason for this choice. The story captures a small portion of time in the life of the main character Ivan Velikopolsky.
The story does give a beginning, middle, and end of a brief encounter by the main character with two others who serve as the audience for the sermon that Ivan preaches. The story contains two women who function as one character.
The story’s narration is third person point of view. The limited omniscient narrator looks at the world through the thoughts and views of Ivan. The story within the story is the ministerial student telling the widow and her daughter the story of Peter and his denial to recognize Jesus as his leader.
The story focuses on Ivan, on one wintery evening, as he walks home. He sits by the widow’ fire, tells his story, and rides a ferry boat home. That is the barebones of the story. It is Ivan and his fervor to tell the story which are the driving force.
Emotionally, the reader is drawn to Ivan. He has a simple experience of telling a biblical story which changes his feelings about his place in the future. Ivan has an emotional epiphany which is a positive experience for both the character and the reader.
Initially, Ivan was overwhelmed by the pessimistic feeling that the world would always have misery in it. He had been hunting on the evening of Good Friday. When the student realizes that he has brought an emotional experience to the widow and her daughter, he feels exuberant:
And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a minute to take breath. "The past," he thought, "is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another." And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered…
Both women react strongly to his telling the story of Peter. The older woman had heard the version read from the testament the day before. She finds Ivan’s version appealing because he changes the story to see Peter’s denials in his words.
The reactions of all three to the story were powerful. Each shed tears. It becomes Peter’s story which is so devastating because he loved Jesus and was one of his greatest followers. Peter becomes another human being who in a moment of pressure thinks only of himself. But he loved the Lord and would spend the rest of his life telling the story of Jesus to whoever would listen.
When the young man sits on the ferry boat on his return to his own life, he sees the crimson streak of sun in the sky. His heart is joyful. He begins to think that life is connected by a chain of joyful and beautiful mysteries.