(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The anonymous narrator begins by describing how a certain Captain Pavel Hlopov visits him in his hut in the Russian Caucasus to inform him of an impending Russian military action against the native Tatar tribesmen. As a consequence of their conversation, the two men begin to discuss the concept of bravery. Captain Hlopov offers a definition of bravery that reminds the narrator of Plato’s definition; the captain says quite concisely: “He’s a brave man who behaves as he ought.” The narrator adds that the man who risks his life out of vanity, or curiosity, or greed cannot be called brave, while a man who refuses to face danger out of duty to his family or on conscientious grounds cannot be called a coward.

The narrator is a former neighbor of Captain Hlopov’s mother, whom he visited before coming to the Caucasus. The old lady, Marya Ivanovna Hlopov, worships her son and has prayed for him since he went into the service eighteen years ago. The captain was wounded severely four times but has kept this information from his mother, who thinks that he has been safe all the while. Although the captain rarely writes and never visits his mother, he does send her money every year. Before the narrator departed for the Caucasus, he had agreed to deliver a black religious amulet from the mother to her son. When he arrives in the Caucasus, the narrator delivers the gift, which deeply touches the captain.

The next day, at four in the morning, the captain arouses the narrator and invites him to join the military operation. As they ride, the narrator is impressed by the splendid scenery and fauna and flora of...

(The entire section is 663 words.)