What is the main theme in Anton Chekhov's "The Lament," also called "Misery"? The Lament (Misery) by Anton Chekhov "To whom shall I tell my grief?" THE twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow...

What is the main theme in Anton Chekhov's "The Lament," also called "Misery"?

The Lament (Misery)

by Anton Chekhov

"To whom shall I tell my grief?"

THE twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling lazily about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and lying in a thin soft layer on roofs, horses' backs, shoulders, caps. Iona Potapov, the sledge-driver, is all white like a ghost. He sits on the box without stirring, bent as double as the living body can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as though even then he would not think it necessary to shake it off. ....

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"The Lament," also known as "Misery," is a short story by Anton Chekhov about a Russian sledge driver whose son has recently died and his reactions.

The central theme of the story, as the title would suggest, is "Misery." Iona Potapov, the driver, takes several fares and each time tries to share his grief with his passengers.

"Drive on! drive on! . . ." says the officer. "We shan't get there till to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!"

The sledge-driver cranes his neck again, rises in his seat, and with heavy grace swings his whip. Several times he looks round at the officer, but the latter keeps his eyes shut and is apparently disinclined to listen. 

However, his fares all have their own problems in life, or simply do not care; Iona is unable to unburden himself by sharing his grief and so continues on, "white like a ghost."

Iona looks round at them. Waiting till there is a brief pause, he looks round once more and says:

"This week . . . er. . . my. . . er. . . son died!"

"We shall all die, . . ." says the hunchback with a sigh, wiping his lips after coughing. "Come, drive on! drive on!"

Without any sympathetic human contact, Iona feels the pain of his son's passing more powerfully than if he had said nothing. Finally, he turns to his faithful mare, who can't comprehend his sorrow but listens patiently.

"Are you munching?" Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. "There, munch away, munch away.
...
He said good-by to me. . . . He went and died for no reason. . . . Now, suppose you had a little colt, and you were own mother to that little colt. . . . And all at once that same little colt went and died. . . . You'd be sorry, wouldn't you? . . ."

The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master's hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.
(All Quotes: Chekhov, "The Lament (Misery)", readbookonline.net)

It is in the act of telling the story that Iona finds a measure of peace. He has tried to connect with his fellow man, but they are all wrapped up in their own lives, superficial or otherwise. Iona's final act is similar to that of confession; he tells the story that has been weighing on his mind and so is relieved of its pressure. His "misery" has eased through his telling of a "lament."

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