(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Southern Russia is covered by a vast, prairie-like grassland, “the steppe.” Anton Chekhov’s story recounts the experiences of the young hero, Yegorushka, during his journey of several weeks across the steppe to the great city of Kiev. His uncle, Kuzmichov, and a family friend, Father Christopher, are accompanying a cart train of sheep wool being taken to market. They are also charged with taking Yegorushka and arranging for his lodging and schooling in Kiev. It is the boy’s first time away from his mother, the widow of a civil-service clerk.

The two men, in high spirits, set out early one July morning. Yegorushka is in tears as the dilapidated carriage leaves the familiar town and cemetery where his father and grandmother lie. The men chide the crybaby and discuss the questionable merits of further education, but soon fall silent, subdued by the monotony of the limitless steppe. Yegorushka’s feeling of desolation and loneliness deepens.

That evening the party briefly stops at an isolated inn to inquire about their wagon train, which has preceded them, and about the powerful Varlamov, with whom they have business. They are effusively greeted by Moses, the obsequiously affable Jewish innkeeper. While the two friends talk, Moses takes Yegorushka into his squalid quarters, where the boy meets the obese wife and several sickly children. Overcome at the plight of the orphan, the wife, after an intense discussion in Yiddish, gives Yegorushka a honeycake, a treat the family can ill afford. The boy returns to find the men talking with the half-mad Solomon. The bizarrely ill-clothed brother, as rudely arrogant as Moses is fawning, points out that as a poor Jew, he is doubly damned. Had he great wealth, however, even Varlamov would fawn on him. Their rest over, the party sets out again and soon overtakes the wagon train. Finding all well, they transfer Yegorushka to one of the wool carts and to the care of the head wagoner, old Panteley, while...

(The entire section is 804 words.)