Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Steppe,” like many Chekhov works, has little action or plot. It consists of a series of small, seemingly independent episodes linked by Yegorushka. Taken together, they portray a formative stage in his short life. The story is framed by Yegorushka’s departure from home and his arrival in Kiev some weeks later, although only the opening and closing days of the journey are related.

Chekhov’s third-person narrative technique is simple. After each of the formative episodes, Yegorushka tries to understand what has happened. Sometimes, he listens as others discuss the event; at other times, he reflects on his own; on still other occasions, the narrator’s voice enters and (rather clumsily) “editorializes.” “The Steppe” is narrated from two points of view: that of the omniscient author and that of the naïve, nine-year-old Yegorushka. Working on his first long, serious prose piece, Chekhov was not always successful in his effort to distinguish between the two viewpoints.

Chekhov is primarily an artist of mood and atmosphere rather than a social commentator. The story’s main vehicle for the poetic evocation of mood is the steppe itself, which is its lyrical heroine, a protagonist no less important than Yegorushka. As the carts lumber on under the stars, the narrator is entranced by the beauty of the steppe:In this triumph of beauty, in this exuberance of happiness, you feel a tenseness and an agonized regret, as if the steppe knew how lonely she is, how her wealth and inspiration are lost to the world—vainly, unsung, unneeded, and . . . you hear her anguished, hopeless cry for a bard, a poet of her own.

In Chekhov, the great Russian steppe found its bard.