Minds in Ferment by Anton Chekhov
In Minds in Ferment by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of curiosity, control, independence, change, corruption and authority. 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 curiosity. Each individual who looks at Father Prebendary’s house is curious as to what may be happening. Their curiosity driven by the fact that more and more people are looking at Father Prebendary’s home. Though none except Potcheshihin and Optimov know exactly what they are looking at. This may be important as it is possible that Chekhov is exploring the mentality of crowds. How one or two people can stop and look at something only to be joined by others who have no idea what they are looking at. Which is very much the case in the story. There is also an element of control in the story which is explored through the town leader Akim Danilitich’s character. As soon as he arrives and notices the crowd he attempts to control the situation. Even though he does not necessarily know what is happening he still nonetheless attempts to control not only the situation but the crowd too. This may be important as Danilitch is exerting his authority over the crowd. Something he is able to do by the very fact that he is the town leader.
It is also interesting that Optimov and Danilitch have a disagreement with Danilitch considering that ‘no good ever comes of reading the papers.’ This line may be important as it is quite possible that Optimov as a journalist has written things that may have been critical of the authorities in the town. Something that causes displeasure to Danilitch. If anything Danilitch may have been on the receiving end of some of Optimov’s writing. It may also be a case that Chekhov is exploring the theme of independence. There is no character in the story who walks by Father Prebendary’s house. Everyone follows everybody else’s lead and imagines that there is a fire in the house. Yet no fire or smoke can be seen. If anything matters become farcical something that is noticeable when one of the firemen mentions that the fire-brigade is unavailable because the major has taken the fire-brigade horses to drive his aunt to the station.
If anything the situation is not only farcical but ridiculous too. Danilitch wants the name of the people in the crowd who will not disperse taken down. Yet the man chosen to take the names down has lost his pencil. It really is a ridiculous situation and the reader senses that Chekhov may be attacking those in authority in the town. Highlighting their incompetence to the reader. With one man, Danilitch, having responsibility over everyone. It is also possible that Chekhov is suggesting that the system of government that existed at the time in Russia itself is also incompetent and needs changing. Something that did eventually happen thirty years later when there was a revolution in Russia and the Tsar lost power. It may also be a case that Chekhov is suggesting that when it comes to a mob (or crowd) it is not easy to control them. Which is very much the case when it comes to Danilitich’s character. He does more shouting and dictating orders to men who are unable to follow through on his orders due to the circumstances they find themselves in.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov may be exploring the theme of corruption. Danilitch writes to his superiors telling them that he has put the guilty parties in jail for a few days. When the reality is very different. Nothing happened any of the crowd and they quietly dispersed when they realised that nothing was happening. Danilitch also exaggerates what has happened. Most likely in order to portray himself in a favourable light. In Danilitich’s letter to his superiors there is a sense that danger was imminent. This in reality is not the case. All that happened was that a crowd gathered and with the exception of Potcheshihin and Optimov no one else knew what was happening. The fact that Danilitch lies may be important as not only is he attempting to portray himself in a favourable light but he may also be trying to incorrectly inform his superiors that those in the town are wild. When the reality in fact is very much different. Nobody was threatening violence at anytime and if anything Danilitch rather than being calm as you would expect a town leader to be was in a state of panic. Which may be Chekhov’s way to further suggest that their needs to be changes in the system of government. In both the town and Russia. If anything Chekhov has written a farce to highlight how bad the system of government in Russia may have been at the time. Rather than being able to control a situation town leaders like Danilitch only made matters worse. In the story the crowd who were aimless are not the problem but rather those in authority are the problem.