A father’s grief—this is the essence of the story “Misery” by Anton Chekhov. Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one can understand the feelings of Iona Potapov, whose son died about a week ago. Chekhov provides introspection into the attitudes and lack of human involvement. when men are confronted with the intense pain felt by the protagonist in the story, they choose to look the other way.
The narration of the story is third person point of view with a limited omniscient narrator. The tone of the story circulates around the deep sadness and lack of compassion given to Iona as he searches for an outlet for his sorrow
The story takes place in a Russian city in the middle of winter. It is extremely cold and snowing in the late nineteenth century.
Iona is an old man who has suffered the worst loss a parent can have: his son has died in a hospital from a fever. The old man has to drive a sleigh to take people around the city. During the course of the evening, Iona will have several situations that frustrate him in his effort to discuss and gain sympathy for his predicament.
A military officer gets in to the sleigh. Because the old man does not normally drive the sleigh, he makes several mistakes. The officer yells at the driver in anger. Iona tells the soldier about his son. The officer initially shows a little interest in the son’s death when he asks of what did the son die. When Iona begins to tell his story, the officer loses interest and continues to yell about Iona’s driving.
Three young men enter the sleigh. They find it difficult to sit comfortably. One of the men is a hunchback who is sarcastic and makes fun of the old man. Again, Iona tries to tell his story with the hunchback reacting:
‘This week…er…my…er….son died!’
‘We shall all die…’ says the hunchback with a high, wiping his lips after a cough.
The three continue to yell and berate the old man.
Iona sees a house porter who is carrying a package. The old man decides to speak to the porter. “What time will it be, friend?’ he asks.
“Going on ten…Why have you stopped here? Drive on!”
Pushing ahead a little ways, misery overtakes the driver. He gives into his grief and decides to return to the cab barn. He gives his little mare some hay because he cannot afford to give her oats.
Iona goes inside the drivers’ room. Here he sees a young cab driver who gets up to get a drink of water. Again, the old man tries to tell the story of his son’s death. The other driver acts as though he did not hear him and returns to his seat and falls asleep.
Frustration eats at Iona. He longs for someone to talk to. His daughter lives in the country. A woman would be good to talk to because they cry at anything.
Returning to check on the horse, Iona finds the little mare munching on her hay.
‘Are you munching?’ Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. My son ought to be driving, not I. He was the real coachman…The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master’s hands. Iona is carried away and tells her about his son.
What a sad indictment of the treatment of one man to another! No one was willing to comfort Iona. All the old man needed was someone to listen to him for just a few minutes.