In the short story "Sleepy-Eyed" by Anton Chekhov, in what ways does Chékhov blend reality and fantasy?  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “Sleepy” or “Sleepy-Eyed” by Anton Chekhov, the main character is a thirteen year-old Russian girl. Varka works for a couple during the day time in a never ending job that appears too difficult for a young woman. During the night time, she cares for the couple’s baby who seems to be constantly crying.  Even, the mother has difficulty soothing the child.

The protagonist Varka, who is still a child herself, lives in fear of the couple that are her task masters.  She knows that if she does not do everything that they wish she will be beaten.  Despite her best efforts, the couple constantly threaten to hurt her if she does not keep the baby satisfied and quiet at night. 

In her sleep depravity, Varka begins to hallucinate or see visions.  She revisits the death of her father who suffered tremendously because his “gut busting.” The doctor could not save him after taking him to a hospital. She can hear a baby crying in the distance during his vision. Finally, she is struck on the head by the father of the baby.  It is then that she has to go to her day job without sleep or food.

“Take him, says her mistress…”he is crying.  He must be bewitched.”

Varka takes the baby and begins rocking it again.  …now there is nothing to fore itself on her eyes and cloud her brain.  But she is as sleepy as before, fearfully sleepy!

Varka returns to her visions when she begins to rock the baby again.  She sees baby clothes as she moves down a road.  The road is covered with mud and the people with wallets on their backs walk along the road. Some lie down and fall asleep.  Varka wants to lie down as well but her mother pushes her forward, hurrying her on to town to look for jobs.   

The child becomes mentally unstable as she tries to console the crying child with not good results. In her sleep deprivation, the baby becomes her enemy---the one who is keeping her from sleep. Thus the baby must die…that is the solution to her problem.  When she strangles the baby, Varka crawls  under the crib and sleeps like a baby herself. 

The author uses  the Varka’s hallucinations to emphasize how tired the poor girl is.  Furthermore, the content of the visions points up the sadness of the girl’s life and the abuse under which she lives now.

At one point, she is slapped on the head to wake her from her vision.  She is only a child herself with the responsibilities of an adult.  No reason to murder a baby…but to the child who desperately needs sleep Varka a reasonable solution to her problem.