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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

The author-narrator starts with the setting. He is out hunting woodcock with his assistant, Yermolai. The most productive time for such hunting is the spring mating-season of the woodcock. The specific Russian word (tyaga , “attraction”) that indicates this activity and the hunt conducted by human beings during this...

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The author-narrator starts with the setting. He is out hunting woodcock with his assistant, Yermolai. The most productive time for such hunting is the spring mating-season of the woodcock. The specific Russian word (tyaga, “attraction”) that indicates this activity and the hunt conducted by human beings during this season is explained by the narrator. The atmosphere of the setting carries great weight: evening, motionless air, pervasive silence, only weak and occasional sounds, the setting sun, gradual darkness, birds falling asleep, stars, indistinguishable masses of trees.

The description of the atmosphere accompanying the expectation of the woodcock’s appearance is followed by a presentation of Yermolai, the narrator’s companion on his hunting expeditions. A humble man, a serf owned by a neighbor landowner, Yermolai is a sort of independent type, not yet old, but no longer young either (about forty-five), adapted to and completely familiar with his natural environment, a passionate huntsman, a good shot, and in a way an eccentric. His hunting dog Valyetka is fond of him, but few people are. He does not care much about people, not even his own wife, whom he visits once a week, rarely provides for, and who “managed to get along somehow and suffered a bitter fate.” Yermolai himself lives on handouts; his eccentric behavior is tolerated by the peasants, and he enjoys respect only as an expert huntsman.

The locale of the anecdote that forms the substance of the story is near the river Ista, a side river of the Oka in the Tula Province. After minor success with the woodcock hunt on the evening in question, the narrator decides to spend the night nearby and to resume the hunt early the next morning. A lodging for the night is required. A nearby mill seems suitable, but the miller’s servant, on his master’s instructions, refuses hospitality. After further pleading and an offer of money, both the master and Yermolai are admitted for the night. Before they lie down to sleep, a meal is prepared in the yard on an open fire, where the miller’s wife, Arina, gives assistance and the reader detects a certain warmth and attraction between Yermolai and this woman. His occasional “sullen fierceness” is allayed in the company of Arina. He takes an interest in her (her complaint is a tormenting and persistent cough), and she waits on him gladly.

The woman’s gentle but sullen demeanor arouses the narrator’s curiosity, and he asks a few questions and then informs the reader of the circumstances of Arina Timofeyevna’s previous life and the background of her present situation. The child of a village elder, she caught the eye of her master, Zverkov, and his wife, who took her in as a parlor maid, later letting her advance to lady’s maid because of her special devotion to her mistress. After ten years of service, the girl asked to be allowed to marry the footman Petrushka. The request was denied. Several months later, the request was repeated, as the girl was pregnant. At this point, she was dismissed from the household and sent back to her village. Here the miller bought her from her previous owners. She brought the marriage certain qualifications, such as an ability to read and write, which were useful in the miller’s business. The boy with whom she had been in love, the footman Petrushka, was sent into the army. Her husband, the miller, seems to tyrannize her. She serves and obeys him without love. Their child has died.

Yermolai displays pity and affection for her, which are important in view of the heartless egotism and exploitative treatment of her previous masters, and the surly nature of her husband, the miller. With the knowledge of the hopelessness of the situation of Arina Timofeyevna and the cruel selfishness ruling human affairs, both Yermolai and his master fall asleep under the lean-to before resuming their woodcock hunting early the next morning.

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