Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An abiding belief among the Russian folk of the nineteenth century was that the czar was a benevolent man with their best interests at heart. It was believed that, although there were bureaucrats who came between the czar and the people and intervened in the natural processes of trust and cooperation, if one could circumvent these petty officials and appeal directly to the czar, everything would be fine. The narrative illustrates this idea well and shows it to be a two-way proposition, with Nicholas sticking firmly to his faith in the men of Tula, and Lefty, as their representative, feeling perfectly at his ease in the presence of the sovereign. Russian peasants referred to the czar as “dear little father,” and it is that feeling that is reflected in Lefty’s behavior at court rather than any feeling of awe.

Russian nationalism and folk wisdom are blended in another theme in the text. Lefty and Platov are the chief fonts of the wisdom of the people, but Czar Nicholas also plays a role therein, thus intertwining the ideas of nationalism and folk wisdom and the bond between czar and folk. Platov, whose name probably alludes to Plato and thus to great wisdom, is the immediate reference point for the superiority and correctness of Russian ways. It is he who first deflates the English by behaving like the quintessential Russian nationalist while in London with Alexander. Platov is a Don Cossack, a fact that alone puts heavy stress on his Russianness. Beyond that, however, Platov considers Alexander too smitten with Western ways, so he does his best to steer the errant czar back to his native roots and values. It is in this connection that Platov’s Russian qualities are strengthened: He drinks Caucasian vodka, carries a folding icon with him and says his prayers before it, crosses...

(The entire section is 733 words.)