The Album by Anton Chekhov
In The Album by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of authority, ego, corruption, appearance, selfishness, respect and ignorance. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of authority. Kraterov is bestowing lavish praise on his boss, Zhmyhov. He is praising him for his role as civil councillor and it appears that Zhmyhov is allowing for the praise to sooth his ego. In reality Zhmyhov may actually do very little in his role as civil councillor allowing for those beneath him to actually do the work. The gift of the album is also a little too much for Zhmyhov and he begins to cry. Tears that the reader suspects are not real. It is as though Zhmyhov lives for appearance. It is important to him how he appears to others. That he might seem to be respectful of others and their gifts. Though the reality is Zhmyhov does not respect others.
This is noticeable by how he allows his son to treat the pictures in the album. It is as though Zhmyhov does not care for the efforts made by the people in the town. Who most likely are looking for favour from Zhmyhov hence their inclusion in the album? It is not only Zhmyhov’s son who mistreats the album but his daughter too takes it for herself, selfishly. When the reality may be the daughter has enough personal belongings to satisfy herself. The album becomes nothing more than a trinket to Olya. A trinket which she will eventually dispense of. This may be significant as not only is Zhmyhov being disrespectful to the townspeople but his daughter who most likely has never had to suffer is being disrespectful. This may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that those in authority and their families are corrupt or do not know the real value of people or things.
It is as though those in authority assume it is their birth right to have power. That they are entitled to have power and to do what they like. Throughout the story Zhmyhov has acted as though he cares about those he is meant to serve but by his reaction to his son’s treatment of the photographs from the album it is clear to see that Zhmyhov does not care. The fact that nobody who is photographed in the album is present for the presentation might also be important. It may be a case that Chekhov is suggesting that they do not have a voice. They are merely there to serve Zhmyhov’s whims and despite their wishes to be remembered fondly by Zhmyhov, they won’t be. If anything Zhmyhov acts one way (crying) to really meaning something else. He has little or no time for those he serves.
In reality each one of the townspeople may be seen to be nothing more than a tool for Zhmyhov to prosper and flourish his career. He is using them and they are unaware of this. This disrespect has also trickled down to Olya and Kolya. As can be seen by the manner to which they treat the album. A gift given in love by the townspeople to Zhmyhov. It is also noticeable that Zhmyhov does not have a conscience when it comes to how the album is treated. He actually praises Kolya for what he has done. When one would expect him to be angry with his son for his actions. This really sums up to the reader the manner of disrespect that Zhmyhov is displaying. He can pretend to be humbled by crying yet the reader knows the reality of Zhmyhov’s actions. He is thinking of no one but himself when he is actually employed to serve the townspeople. Who may continue to treat Zhmyhov as a person of high regard? When he really does not deserve the position or rank he holds. Zhmyhov in reality is self-centred and thinks only of how he might prosper and the townspeople remain ignorant of how Zhmyhov really feels about them.