Small Fry by Anton Chekhov
In Small Fry by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of self-esteem, class, paralysis, struggle, control, hope, confidence and happiness. 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 self-esteem. Nevyrazimov has low self-esteem. He never sees himself rising from the position of being a petty clerk. It is as though Nevyrazimov is stuck in the situation he finds himself in. However he does have the confidence to believe that he can rise in life. Even if it is by nefarious means. This may be significant as Chekhov could be suggesting that rising in social class is predominantly what is the most important thing to Nevyrazimov. He believes he will be happier if he is promoted or if he gets a pay rise. Though neither seems to be possible for Nevyrazimov. He will neither get a promotion or a pay rise. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Nevyrazimov is somewhat paralysed. That being he is going nowhere.
The issue with regard to self-esteem is further explored when Nevyrazimov is afraid to leave the office to celebrate with those who are outside in the streets. In many ways those who are outside the office represent happiness for Nevyrazimov. Though some critics might suggest that Nevyrazimov is an ungrateful employee, having been paid to work overtime. It is more likely that Nevyrazimov is displeased with the life he is living outside the office. Chekhov goes into detail when describing Nevyrazimov’s lodgings. They are worse than those he finds himself in, in the office. So Nevyrazimov, who has little or no money, is left to work in the office of his employers over Easter. He simply has no other choice. It may also be significant that Nevyrazimov appears to be struggling as he is working. In many ways how Nevyrazimov is progressing during the day mirrors how he feels. Work and life are one long struggle for Nevyrazimov. A struggle in which he has not got the ability to stop. It is as though there is something else that controls Nevyrazimov’s life and he is just going through the motions.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The lamp can in many ways be symbolic of Nevyrazimov’s hopes. Like the light Nevyrazimov’s hopes are fading. He simply cannot see a way out of the predicament he finds himself in, without stealing from his employer. The Easter celebrations on the street might also be symbolic of the life that Nevyrazimov longs for. A life where he has more freedom to do as he likes and possibly move from his lodgings to a better place. The fact that Nevyrazimov does not leave his office for the duration of the story could also further suggest that Nevyrazimov is somewhat paralysed. He makes little or no movement throughout the story. It might also be significant that Nevyrazimov reveals he has little education as Chekhov could be suggesting that the way to prosper in life is through education. To better oneself one must ensure that they have an adequate education.
The end of the story is also interesting as Nevyrazimov appears to take out his anger and frustration on the grasshopper. He knows he is at the bottom of the social hierarchy ladder however he considers that he is able to control the life of the grasshopper in the same way that he feels he is being controlled by his employers. It is as though the grasshopper, as the lowest form of life in Nevyrazimov’s eyes, is a pawn that satisfies Nevyrazimov when killed. He is able to forget about how bad his own life is by killing the grasshopper and for a brief moment the reader feels as though Nevyrazimov might be satisfied with his lot. However as readers we are aware of just how bad Nevyrazimov’s position is. He still has to work the next day and the next for a salary he is unhappy with and for employers he is unhappy with. Life does not improve for Nevyrazimov throughout the story and he is only deluding himself into believing he is satisfied.