(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens on January 13, 1865. The narrator, Semyon Semyonitch, and his married friends, Elena Ivanovna and Ivan Matveitch, go to St. Petersburg’s arcade to see a crocodile that is on display. The arcade is a popular spot in St. Petersburg for public exhibitions and lectures. Semyonitch and Matveitch are distantly related and both work in the same government department. Because Matveitch is scheduled to go to Western Europe for intellectual advancement and has no official duties for the day, he can join his wife and friend on the excursion to the arcade. He thinks that it will be valuable to see the crocodile because, before he visits Europe, it is well to acquaint himself “with its indigenous inhabitants.”

The crocodile is housed in a large tin tank with only two inches of water, located inside a shop that also exhibits cockatoos and monkeys. Disappointed to find that the crocodile is not active because of the cold Russian climate, the visitors wonder if the animal is even alive. Its German owner uses a stick to prod the crocodile. Showing no fear, Matveitch moves forward and tickles the crocodile’s nose with his glove at the same moment that Elena Ivanovna and Semyonitch turn their attention to the monkeys. In an instant, Matveitch is swallowed by the crocodile. His wife screams when she sees her husband in the jaws of the great beast, which swallows him, legs first, as a terrified audience looks on. After disappearing inside the crocodile, Matveitch’s head pops out of its mouth, causing his glasses to fall off and land at the bottom of the tank.

Although horrified, Semyonitch finds the tragedy absurdly comical and cannot help but laugh. The German owner and his mother are outraged by what has happened;...

(The entire section is 713 words.)