What is the main theme in Chekhov's short story "Peasants"?

1 Answer

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

The main theme of "Peasants" is a painfully ironic one. Chekhov shows that in order to be a good peasant like Olga and Sasha became, you have to first be a good person. Nikolay says he became a good person because of the experience, work and training he received in Moscow. When Nikolay dies so suddenly before ever being able to return with his gentle and lovely wife and daughter back to Moscow, Olga and Sasha are forced to remain and to live in poverty like peasants. Yet they continue to wear smiles and to be good and happy. They continue to exercise the goodness that was bred in them in Moscow.

At the end of the story, Chekhov chooses a scene that shows their extreme poverty while at the same time showing their unchanged faith and goodness of heart. In the final scene, they bow themselves before the windows of wealthy strangers and chant sweetly for alms on Christmas Day. This theme asserts that Granny and the others were not good peasants because they did not have the experience, work and training in a place that cultivates civility, knowledge, courtesy and that provides ways to slake the mortal needs of the body so that other joys can be known. This is contrary to the pastoral ideal that elevates the country village simpleton over the calloused and mercenary city dweller. It also contradicts Tolstoy's image of the village peasant as the keeper of moral purity and goodness.