“To whom shall I tell my grief?”
The main character in the story “Misery” by Anton Chekhov asks this question because even though he is around people, no one will listen to him. Iona Potapov needs to talk to someone about the death of his son.
It is winter in Russia. It is miserably cold with snow falling as the main character and his little horse drawn carriage wait for people. The time is the late nineteenth century.
The mood and atmosphere speak to the overwhelming grief of the main character. The people that he tries to talk with about his loss do not care and brush his misery aside. The harshness of human nature strains the emotions as the reader lives through the story with Iona.
The theme of grief encircles the protagonist Iona. He is isolated from the rest of humanity because he has no one with whom to share his pain. Iona looks for someone to stop and let him reflect back on the terrible event that will forever impact his life. No one seems to care.
Man’s inhumanity to man
The incidences that Iona experiences in the story portray the worst side of mankind. The customers are rude, unfeeling, indifferent, and uninterested. They do not want to get involved because they might have to do something or help the driver; consequently, they act as though they do not hear him.
Iona and his little horse wait for people to need his services. He is physically and mentally exhausted and debilitated from his grief for the loss of son only a week ago. He encounters five incidences in the story.
The officer is in a hurry. He does react to Iona’s story, but it is only to tell him that life goes on. He softens somewhat and makes a joke. There is only polite interest.
Three drunken young men
They have their own problems. They are loud and abusive toward Iona. They are numbed by alcohol. One of the men is a sick hunchback. He is especially miserable. The hunchback reacts to Iona’s story by saying that “We all shall die.”
Iona stops and tries to engage an indifferent house-porter who is delivering a package. He tells Iona to go on.
At this point, the sleigh driver gives in to his misery. He stops then and goes back to the yard. He does not have enough money to buy food for the horse.
In the yard, Iona sees another cabman. Again, he tries to engage the young man in a conversation about his terrible grief. The young man goes to sleep while he is talking to him.
Iona reflects on his grief. Then, he decides to check on his horse.
'Are you munching?' Iona asks his mare. 'Since we have not earned enough for oats, we will eat hay….Yes…I have grown too old to drive… My son ought to be driving, not I…He was a real coachman. Kuzma Ionitch is gone…He said goodbye to me...'
The old man continues to talk as the horse eats his hay. The horse seems to listen to his master and breathes on the old man’s hands.
Maybe the old man will feel better once he has verbalized the details of his son’s illness to his death and funeral. Finally, Iona may find relief in talking to his little white mare. He pours his heart out. The story is left with an indecisive conclusion. Hopefully, the resolution for Iona will come with the purging of his grief with his working companion, his little horse.