How does Chekhov use cause and effect to illustrate a deeper truth about people?

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For Iona’s passengers, the cause and effect in the story are simple. They need to reach their destinations as quickly and comfortably as possible; therefore, they hail a cab. It is bitterly cold, and, even in the comparative comfort of such a conveyance, they are still eager to reach the...

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For Iona’s passengers, the cause and effect in the story are simple. They need to reach their destinations as quickly and comfortably as possible; therefore, they hail a cab. It is bitterly cold, and, even in the comparative comfort of such a conveyance, they are still eager to reach the ends of their respective journeys as soon as possible.

This simple arrangement is complicated by the interpolation of a human being. Iona is desperate to talk to someone about the death of his son. His first passenger, after cursing Iona for his inefficiency as a driver, briefly inquires into the cause of death, probably more as a matter of politeness than of genuine interest or compassion. However, the demands of Iona’s job as a driver soon take precedence over human interaction.

The three young men Iona picks up next are even more indifferent. They are not even prepared to pay a fair price for his services, let alone treat him as a human being. The last man he tells, a fellow driver, is so exhausted that he falls asleep without giving Iona a response at all. The nearest Iona can get to a human connection comes from his horse, and who knows what she is thinking?

Chekhov’s characters are all wrapped up in their own considerations. A cab driver, to them, is no more than a machine, simply actuated by mechanical cause and effect. To have to deal with his misery and common humanity is embarrassing as well as inconvenient. Chekhov shows a profound truth about humanity here: though it is common humanity, theoretically shared by all of us, in practice, we most often choose not to share our humanity, bearing our burdens and forcing others to bear theirs frozen in solitude.

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The cause or catalyst Chekhov uses in "Misery" is the death of Iona Potapov's son. This is a severe blow to Iona, and he feels the strong need to express his grief to other people and receive sympathy. The effect or result is that nobody will listen to him, so he ends up telling his sorrows to his horse.

The deeper truth Chekhov is illuminating—and this a common theme in his work—is that we are indifferent to the sufferings of others. Chekhov sees it as a social problem (and he is writing not long before the Russian Revolution) that people are only concerned about their own happiness. In fact, as he argues in another short story, "Gooseberries," the prosperous and happy rely on the many poor and miserable people in Russia to stay silent about their sufferings so that the privileged are not annoyed or disturbed. Essentially, the wealthy put on blinders.

Iona violates this unspoken rule of silence when he, a lowly cab driver, poor to begin with, tries to express his pain over his son's demise. The people he drives in his cab see him as no more than an object taking them from place to place. He is no more human to them than his horse, and when he reminds them of his humanity by speaking of his grief, they simply tell him to drive faster. They aren't paying to hear about his problems.

When Iona finally expresses his sadness to his horse, he is acknowledging that he is no more than his horse in the eyes of his society, merely a beast of burden. This ending is particularly bleak, because while his horse will listen, it cannot understand Iona.

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In Anton Chekhov's short story "Misery," cab driver Iona Potapov tries to tell several people about the recent death of his son, but no one will listen, forcing him to eventually talk to his horse about the tragedy.

Chekhov's use of cause and effect involves Iona's desperate attempts to talk about his son's death. Each time he brings it up, he feels brief hope before feeling even worse at the disinterest of his passengers. When he tries to tell his first passenger, the cop, he is more concerned with Iona's driving, telling him to hurry up. Three rowdy young men simply tell him, "We shall all die" before, like the cop, complaining that he is not going fast enough. When they leave, Chekhov writes, "The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever." Bringing up his sorrows to unsympathetic ears continually makes Iona feel worse as the night goes on. Eventually, when he is able to talk about it to the horse, "Iona is carried away and tells her all about it." His misery is finally eased.

Here, the effect of Iona's talking and the responses of the people he is talking to is a chain of increased misery—until he is finally able to share his story. This illustrates the human need for a good listener. According to Chekhov in this story, we need to be able to share our emotions and experiences in order to lessen our misery, but so many of us are too busy and self-absorbed to help our fellow man.

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