Fat and Thin by Anton Chekhov
In Fat and Thin by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of social status, respect, class, perception, self-importance, discontent, equality, appearance 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 social status. Porfiry appears to be impressed by the fact that Misha has reached the position of privy councillor. It is as though Porfiry treats Misha differently when he becomes aware of the fact that Misha is the privy councillor. This may be important as it suggests that Porfiry believes in the importance of social status. It is as though someone’s social status is more important to Porfiry than an individual’s character. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that at the time the story was written many people like Porfiry venerated those who may be higher up the social ladder than them. Even if this respect may have been unmerited. The fact that Porfiry bows to Misha is also interesting as there is a sense that he is submitting to the perceived superiority of Misha.
It may also be important that Chekhov paints Misha in an unflattering light (physically) as he could be suggesting that those in authority may not necessarily be pleasant types of people. It is also possible that Chekhov is questioning those in authority as to what right they may have to be in authority. However if anything it seems to be Porfiry who is more impressed with Misha’s position than Misha himself. It is as though Misha might be the marker that Porfiry sets for himself. That he too wishes to reach the lofty heights of privy councillor. Which may play on the theme of self-importance. Porfiry rather than being content with the position he holds in government might prefer to have a higher position like Misha because he knows that it will elevate his status among others. Where there was a sense that Porfiry was content with his position. This changes when he learns that Misha is privy councillor. If anything rather than being happy with his life. Porfiry is comparing himself to Misha. Where once they may have been equals in school. This is no longer the case in Porfiry’s eyes.
The fact that Misha does not hold his position in the same light as Porfiry could also be important as it suggests that he is still very much rooted to his past. He feels embarrassed by Porfiry‘s actions when after all they were classmates when they were younger. Misha may have an important job but he does not appear to place the same level of importance on it as Porfiry does. Both men may also have different goals in life with Misha being happy to be working while Porfiry aims for more. It is also possible that Porfiry has more than Misha. There is no mention of Misha having a family but Porfiry we know is married and has one son. It is also interesting that Porfiry places an emphasis on his wife’s lineage. It is as though he wants others to know that his wife is from an agreeable class of people. On three separate occasions Porfiry tries to impress Misha by telling him that his wife is ‘of the Lutheran persuasion.’ If anything appearance seems to be important to Porfiry. He has ambitions and he would like to fulfil them. Just as Misha has done.
The end of the story is also interesting as it is clear to the reader that Porfiry is in shock when he hears that Misha is a privy councillor. Porfiry’s own achievements seem to be insignificant compared to Misha’s. This could be important as Chekhov could be highlighting how negative it is for an individual to compare themselves to others. By comparing themselves to others a person will not only be discontent but they will be unhappy too. It would be better for Porfiry to forget Misha’s position in government and to focus on his own life. It may also be important that Porfiry was happy when he first bumped into Misha and that his change in mood only came about when he realised that Misha was privy councillor. If anything Porfiry may feel as though Misha has bettered him such is the significance that Porfiry gives to Misha’s position. Though he may not necessarily be jealous of Misha he does afford him a respect that embarrasses Misha. Where some might think that Misha would have an over inflated ego due to his position this is not the case. It is Porfiry who is in awe of Misha. Leaving the reader to suspect that social status is more important to Porfiry than happiness or contentment. If anything Porfiry fuelled by the knowledge of Misha’s success no longer treats Misha as a friend but as a superior. Something he would not have done when both men were in school. It is not Misha who has changed but Porfiry.