In a Strange Land by Anton Chekhov
In the short story In a Strange Land by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of animosity, perfection, submission and commitment. Taken from his The Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Chekhov is exploring the theme of animosity. Kamyshev treats Champoun unfairly. He belittles him and his country at every opportunity he can get. Though Kamyshev likes to think he is playing with Champoun, Champoun does not see the funny point in Kamyshev’s remarks. France has already been defeated by German and it is as though Kamyshev is adding salt to Champoun’s wounds. If anything Kamyshev is ignorant of Champoun’s feelings. Never letting go at any time to rile Champoun. For Kamyshev it is all a bit of fun, at Champoun’s expense. So it is clear to the reader as to why Champoun might want to leave Kamyshev’s home. Even though he does live a very good life there.
It is also clear that Champoun has a lot of pride in France and all things French. If anything he sees no wrong in France which may be the reason he is riled so much by Kamyshev. This may be important as Champoun sees France as an idyllic place in whereby no wrong can be done. Which only leaves him open to criticism from Kamyshev. At no stage does the reader sense that Champoun lives a dislikeable life. He is good at his job and has educated Kamyshev’s children well. The only exception to this is the ribbing he gets from Kamyshev about France. It can also be difficult to say if Kamyshev is being serious, though in all likelihood he is being serious. He has a bee in his bonnet with regard to the French and their culture. Believing that Frenchmen have ideas above their station and that they are never happy. Whether Kamyshev is right or wrong is another thing and many readers may feel that Kamyshev is over generalizing considering how good Champoun has been to Kamyshev’s family.
If anything Champoun has remained committed to Kamyshev’s children. Educated them to a level that they might not have gotten in school. One would think that Kamyshev would be grateful for what Champoun has done for his children. But this is not the case. Kamyshev prefers to attack Champoun based solely on his nationality and nothing else. It is as though Kamyshev does not have a leg to stand on but an emotional Champoun does not see this. Instead he threatens to leave Kamyshev’s household and very nearly goes through with it. Until Kamyshev intervenes. This too may be significant as it appears to be a test of wills with Champoun realising that he is no more than a servant to Kamyshev and backs down. Much to Kamyshev’s pleasure. It is also clear that Kamyshev does not intend to change his tone when it comes to engaging with Champoun.
The end of the story is interesting as Champoun, when realising he cannot leave Kamyshev, bows to Kamyshev’s wishes and joins him at the table again. Nothing has and will change with both Kamyshev and Champoun knowing their places in the hierarchal tree. Champoun is going to be continually belittled by Kamyshev and he will accept this. Without a passport he cannot travel far and he knows this. He is to remain stuck at the house and suffer Kamyshev’s animosity. Much to Kamyshev’s delight and Champoun’s dislike. Like many French teachers in Russia they know their place and know that no matter what they say they will remain in their position. The butt of jokes and with an onslaught of crude remarks on their nationality. Life in Russia is hard for those who are non-Russians and who decide to work for the gentry or upper classes. Champoun can only hope that the children grow fast and that Kamyshev tells him that his services are no longer required. Otherwise he is sure to continue to take the abuse that Kamyshev throws at him. All because he is French and deemed to be a lower character than the Russian Kamyshev. It is an endless circle that will go on for some time.