Iona is a recently displaced peasant farmer who is now driving a taxi in the Russian metropolis of St. Petersburg. Iona suffers from depression, homesickness and extreme loneliness and loss. His wife and son have both died, and he desires a sympathetic ear in which to tell his troubles. He and his horse stand miserably during a snowstorm, awaiting a new fare. An officer boards the horse-drawn sleigh and listens to Iona's tale of woe, but the driver's inability to talk and navigate prompt his customer to stop talking and drive. After a long wait, three more board the taxi, but they have no time or inclination to sympathize with Iona. When Iona seeks consolation from other drivers, he again is rejected. He finally turns to the horse, who has no choice but to listen patiently to the human's problems.
Isolation and social alienation are the primary themes of Chekhov's story. Iona is a product of the recent Russian reforms in which the serf and peasant farmers have been displaced from their homes into the cities. With his family dead or dispersed, Iona has no friends in which to confide. The bleakness of his life is emphasized by the constant snow which continues to pile upon the unhappy driver and his lone friend--the horse.