The poor little orphan Vanka is leading an absolute dog's life in Moscow. Living with the shoemaker Alyakhin and his family, he's treated like dirt every single day of his existence. Subject to ridicule, regular beatings, and lack of decent food, it's no wonder that he's so desperate for Konstantin Makarich to help bring him back to the village where he once lived. Anything has to be better than his current situation.
In his letter to Konstantin Makarich, Vanka sets out in stark, unerring detail a long litany of woes. The little orphan boy doesn't hold back in describing just how badly he's been treated. As well as being whacked with a boot-stretcher by his master for falling asleep while rocking his child to sleep in a cradle, Vanka has a herring thrust into his face by the master's wife for the heinous crime of not cleaning the fish properly.
He then goes on to tell Konstantin Makarich of the inadequate food he receives every day. For breakfast, he's given bread to eat, and nothing more. For dinner, he gets porridge. Then, in the evening, it's time for more bread. There's soup and tea in the house, but the master and wife gobble it all up themselves, a further indication of just how much contempt and disregard they have for the poor young waif.