From the outset, Chukovsky clearly means to tell a good story as well as to explain the effects of a decree of the reactionary czar Alexander III just before the latter’s death in 1894: “Together with his ministers, he had drawn up a vicious law which came to be known as the ‘Decree of the Cook’s Children.’ ” The law ordered that the sons and daughters of ordinary workers—such as cooks, dishwashers, seamstresses, and blacksmiths—could not attend a gymnasium under any circumstances. Nicholas II, the last of the Russian czars, kept the decree in effect.
The point of view expressed in The Silver Crest is that of thirteen-year-old Chukovsky, who did not know of the czar’s decree. Burgmeister, the youngster’s cruel and unscrupulous principal, and Prokhov Evgenich, the school inspector, deliberately led the boy to believe that he was dismissed for being a bad influence on the upper-class pupils. The boy tries to recall his past behavior that might have led to the present catastrophe. Without an education, he will be only an unskilled laborer—he who so loves the sounds of words, who writes poetry in secret, and who is the best student in the Latin class.
At first, young Chukovsky was certain that his expulsion was a mistake—perhaps because he forgot and was caught eating a meat dumpling on a Friday, a meatless day in the Orthodox Church. Perhaps it was the time that he tried to help his luckless friend, Timosha, by inventing a kite string “telephone line” of communication during a fiendishly difficult dictation test that was easy for Chukovsky but not for Timosha and the others. The boys sitting at the end of the extended string “stopped using their...
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