A Problem Summary

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The theme of "A Problem" by Anton Chekhov is that people will not change their bad habits unless they have paid for them. This passage from the Bible can be a statement of theme:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5).

Sasha's friends have forged promissory notes (something like IOUs), but they have managed to repay the notes before it comes due so that the person whose name they have forged does not know. However, in Sasha's case the promissory note has come due and Sasha has no money. So, before the authorities handle this situation, there is a family meeting held to decide what to do.

The strictest measures were taken that the Uskovs' family secret might not leak out and become generally known.

Most of the family members are worried about the reputation of the family and do not wish to have any scandal. Consequently, the Colonel who wishes to let Sasha take his punishment is out-voted and his debt is paid for him. When Ivan Marovitch informs Sasha Uskov that the debt will be paid by the family, he is relieved. However, no sooner has he learned this then he asks his uncle for  one-hundred roubles, threatening to "present another false note tomorrow." Weakly, the uncle gives him the one hundred rubles.

Sasha notes, "Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal." He has not reformed because he has had no punishment.