Difficult People by Anton Chekhov
In Difficult People by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of control, conflict, anger, determination, resentment, escape, connection, acceptance and change. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of control. While Shiryaev is having dinner there is a sense that he is the one who is in complete control of his environment. His family are silent and everything hinges on Shiryaev. Something that is noticeable when Pyotr asks for money for university. Rather than give Pyotr the money that Fedosya thinks he should have, Shiryaev only gives Pyotr what he thinks he might need. In essence Shiryaev is controlling the situation with his family expected to adhere to his rule. It is also through Fedosya’s stubbornness that Chekhov appears to be exploring the theme of conflict. If Fedosya had not challenged Shiryaev over the amount of money he was giving Pyotr there would be no conflict in the story. Fedosya’s actions act as the trigger for the subsequent argument between Shiryaev and Pyotr. It is through Fedosya’s concern for Pyotr’s well-being that the argument is started. She is embarrassed by the fact that Pyotr is wearing old clothes and needs new boots though rather than buy him boots Shiryaev offers Pyotr a pair of his own old boots. Which may suggest that Shiryaev is mean and money may be of the utmost importance to him. With money Shiryaev is able to control his family. They are reliant on him for financial support.
Pyotr’s attempt to walk to Moscow may also be important as the reader gets a further insight into how Pyotr thinks. It is clear that he resents his father and is angry. Just as Shiryaev is angry over the request for the extra money. However what is really striking is the fact that Pyotr escapes into a fantasy world. He imagines different scenarios that might greet him on his way to Moscow including a rich landowner’s daughter falling in love with him. It is possible that by allowing Pyotr escape into a fantasy world Chekhov is highlighting how disaffected or disillusioned Pyotr is with the environment he has to live with at home. It is also noticeable that Pyotr attempts to make a connection with the old lady as he is walking to Moscow. Though he only smiles at her his thoughts suggest that he is attempting to satisfy his mind that all families have secrets (or fights). That his family is no different to other families. This may be important as Chekhov could be attempting to suggest that Pyotr is seeking a resolution for the internal conflict that he feels. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when Pyotr journeys back home and attempts to talk to his father.
It is also while Pyotr is talking to his father that the reader feels as though both father and son are determined. Neither backs down while they are arguing and such is the frustration that Pyotr feels he decides upon going to Moscow the following day regardless of his father’s attitude towards him. It might also be important that Pyotr attempts to defend his mother suggesting to his father that he doesn’t treat her correctly. By standing up for his mother symbolically Chekhov may be suggesting that women in general at the time the story was written may have lived their lives submissive to their husbands. Which appears to be the case with Shiryaev and Fedosya. Though she challenged Shiryaev at the beginning of the story when it came to the amount of money to give Pyotr she does not get as involved in Shiryaev and Pyotr’s second argument.
The end of the story is interesting as it is ambiguous. Though some critics might suggest that Pyotr, because his father has left the money on the table for him, has gotten the better of his father. It is also possible that the amount of money left on the table for Pyotr is the original amount that Shiryaev was giving Pyotr. It is for that reason it is difficult to say as to whether there has been a change within Shiryaev. The very fact that Pyotr is going to Moscow without knowing about the money beforehand suggests that he has changed. However the reader can’t be as certain when it comes to Shiryaev. It is also by having Pyotr changing and not been so reliant on Shiryaev that the reader suspects that Chekhov is exploring the theme of acceptance. It is possible that Pyotr realises that he needs to not only change within himself when it comes to his father but he may also be aware that he has to accept his father for who he is. An angry and controlling man whose family suffers because of his own desire to remain constantly in control of his environment. Pyotr may have been fortunate enough to escape to university no longer having to witness his father’s rage but his mother and siblings remain at home and under the control of Shiryaev.