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Themes

Imagination & Logic

Yevgeny spends his days in court doing a job that requires him to form logical and compelling arguments. However, when Yevgeny tries to convince his son of the dangers of smoking, he finds that all of his logical arguments are hollow and ineffectual. Seryozha misses Yevgeny’s points or turns them into tangents. Yevgeny can tell that he is failing to connect with Seryozha, thinking with each attempt, “I am not explaining properly! It’s wrong! Quite wrong!” But when he critiques the unrealistic proportions of his son’s drawing, Seryozha retorts: “If you were to draw the soldier small you would not see his eyes.” Yevgeny, who enjoys the wandering nature of his thoughts at home, begins to consider the drawing from Seryozha’s point of view, which he had not yet considered as valid or equal to his own. He realizes that Seryozha understands the world in a way that Yevgeny has perhaps long dismissed or forgotten, preferring imagination to facts and numbers. The tension between these two approaches, the logical and the imaginative, is reflected in the sounds Yevgeny hears from upstairs. On the floor above him, someone is pacing rhythmically across the floor, and on the next floor up two people are practicing musical scales together. As the story ends, the scales have stopped, and the pacing continues, mirroring both Yevgeny’s linear habits and doubtful state of mind.

The Power of Storytelling

At first, Yevgeny sees storytelling as a “crude” mode of learning and conveying information. He is described as someone who knows no poems or fairytales by heart, having subscribed to a matter-of-fact way of thinking for the whole of his adult life. But after all of Yevgeny’s logical arguments fall short with his son, it is his storytelling that persuades Seryozha to stop smoking. Even so, Chekov’s story ends in ambiguity. Yevgeny is troubled by what has transpired. He acknowledges the necessity of making “speeches” to juries and the crucial role played by “fables, novels, [and] poems” in his own moral development. However, he also connects the profound effect of his story to his earlier concerns about using art to embellish—or falsify—the truth.