A Classical Student by Anton Chekhov
In A Classical Student by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of fear, intelligence, discipline, selfishness and success. Taken from his Collected Story Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it is clear that Chekhov is exploring the theme of fear. Vanya’s exams are to take place the following day and he is not at all confident that he will do well. In fact there is a sense that Vanya has allowed for himself to fail. This may be significant as Vanya is doing the exams to please his mother rather than himself. She wants Vanya to have a good job, one that pays well and takes the family out of poverty. Some critics might even suggest that Vanya’s mother is acting selfishly but her circumstances have to be taken into consideration. Life is not easy for Vanyas’ mother.
There is also a chance that Vanya is not self-disciplined to that he studying material he has little or no interest in his course work He does appear to be a bright boy but his talents are not directed in the right way. Everything appears to be learnt in order to get a good job and support his family. If anything Vanya has no freedom to learn as he wishes. Which may be the case for many young men and women in Russia at the time the story was written. There is also no disputing that Vanya is the cleverest member of his household. He is after all the only one going to school. Even if he does not like it. The fact that Vanya fails his exams is central to the idea of the story. His mother wants to beat him but she knows she is too weak and it is left to Kuporossov. A lodger in the home who does not really have the authority to beat someone who is not his son. He is chosen because he is successful in life and Vanya’s mother wants Vanya to be like him.
This comparison between Vanya and Kuporossov could have taken an alternative direction if Kuporossov had not beaten Vanya. He could have used words of encouragement to help Vanya pass this exams the next time he sat them. Instead Kuporossov acts as a foil to Vanya and punishes him severely. As though education was the only thing that mattered in life. It is also interesting that Vanka remains silent when he is being punished. It may not be the fact that the punishment is harsh but rather Vanka realises it is part and parcel of growing up. If he fails in something, no matter how difficult it may be, he is to be punished. Which may be Chekhov’s way of trying to highlight the patriarchal system that existed in Russia at the time. It is as though Vanya accepts the position he finds himself in.
The end of the story is also interesting as the matter of Vanka’s education has been decided. He will leave work and begin work in business. He has had no say in the matter and must follow the path directed to him by his mother. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that Vanka is acting independently of others and making up his own mind as for what the future might hold for him. Just because Vanka failed his exams does not mean he cannot repeat them when his is more apt in doing do. However Vanka is forced to expect and respect his mother’s wishes though he is of an age when change, positive change is vital. Being a business clerk will bore Vanka who may have other opportunities and jobs in his mind. No body deserves to be judged on just one exam paper and this is what is happening to Vanka. An overpowering mother is deciding Vanka’s faith for the foreseeable future. Yet she may not fully understand Vanka’s goals and aspirations. The read loser in the story is Vanka and he may know this for himself, Any artistic endeavours are to be squashed and he is to become a business man’s clerk.