Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Vasili Andrevich Brekhunov is the quintessence of greed. Making money is his raison d’être, his fundamental dynamic, his only obsession. For this he will risk and ultimately lose his life. If the wages of sin are death, then he is rightly doomed, because even when in mortal danger he still thinks of all the wealth that will be his. He “thought ever of the one thing that constituted the sole aim, meaning, pleasure, and pride of his life—of how much money he had made and might still make, of how much other people he knew had made and possessed, and how those others had made and were making it, and how he, like them, might still make much more.”

Materialism corrupts his entire vision. He cheats and shortchanges everybody, especially Nikita. He is supposed to pay his servant eighty rubles a year but gives him half that amount, in reluctant driblets and often in the form of payment in kind, for which he charges Nikita too much. However, Brekhunov can still hypocritically pose as Nikita’s benefactor, “If you need anything, take it,” he says to him, “you will work it off. I’m not like others to keep you waiting, and making up accounts and reckoning fines. We deal straightforwardly. You serve me and I don’t neglect you.”

Nikita is bound to his master symbolically as well as practically. He knows that he is being cheated but figures that such is his lot in life and accepts it: “He felt that it was useless to try to...

(The entire section is 498 words.)