The Beggar by Anton Chekhov
In The Beggar by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of change, dishonesty, alcoholism, kindness, compassion, desperation, struggle, selflessness and gratitude. 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 desperation and struggle. Lushkov due to his alcoholism is no longer able to work and has to resort to begging in order to survive. He also begins to lie about his misfortune hoping that the story he creates (schoolteacher) will help him to get money from strangers. That they will take pity on him. He knows that should a stranger be aware that he wants money so that he can continue to drink none will be given to him. In essence Lushkov is being dishonest in order to survive or feed his addiction to alcohol. It is also interesting that due to his lying Skvortsov shows Lushkov little or no compassion believing that hard work will cure him of his homelessness and addiction to alcohol. Though some critics might suggest that the path Skvortsov follows is a noble one it turns out that Skvortsov’s suggestion does not work for Lushkov and it is only through the kindness of Olga that Lushkov begins to really change his life and give up drinking. It is through listening and talking to Olga that Lushkov sees the error of his ways and is able to mend his life.
Though it is true that Skvortsov provided the impetus (or work) for Lushkov to change it is Olga who should be given full credit for the compassion and kindness that she showed Lushkov. If it was not for Olga Lushkov’s life would not have changed for the better. It is also worth noting that Skvortsov is allowing his ego to take credit for helping Lushkov improve his life. In reality he may be more impressed with himself and his ability or at least his thought that he was able to help someone than the actual act of helping an individual. Throughout the story the reader senses that Skvortsov’s goodwill is more about him boosting his ego than helping Lushkov. Rather than showing Lushkov compassion when they first meet Skvortsov is upset that Lushkov has lied to him. He doesn’t seem to understand that Lushkov had no option but to lie to him in order to try and survive. If anything Skvortsov may be the more dishonest of the two men. Judging Lushkov for lying without taking into consideration his circumstances.
Though some critics might suggest that Lushkov continued to lie to Olga about being unable to chop the wood and played on her good nature it is more likely that Lushkov through his alcoholism was unable to physically exert himself. Something that is lost on Skvortsov. It is also worth noting that though Skvortsov thinks he is acting out of charity he is in fact gaining something. He is getting his wood chopped. He is not acting selflessly though would like others to see him in that light. The number one person in Skvortsov’s life throughout the story is Skvortsov himself. Each task that he asks Lushkov to perform is for his own gain. Whether it be chopping the wood or helping to move furniture. He cleanses his soul by way of paying Lushkov and in many ways patronizing him when it comes to Lushkov’s alcohol intake. At no stage in the story is there a sense that Skvortsov understands Lushkov’s alcoholism.
Olga may also be the most important character in the story because in many ways she is the opposite to Skvortsov. She physically attempts to help Lushkov by chopping the wood and giving him advice on the evils of alcohol. She takes more of an interest (selflessly) in Lushkov’s life than Skvortsov does. It is also noticeable that Lushkov is grateful to Olga something that the reader becomes aware of when he is talking to Skvortsov at the theatre. Despite the passing of time he has not forgotten all the Olga has done for him. Which appears to come as a surprise to Skvortsov. Who feels as though he is the one who is responsible for helping Lushkov reclaim his life. However the reality is that Skvortsov’s words and deeds are no match for the actions of Olga who is the real impetus for change in Lushkov’s life. It may also be a case that Chekhov is suggesting that when it comes to change it is a woman’s hand that will guide an individual rather than a man’s. Instinctively a woman may know what is best for an individual while a man will be critical and compare his own circumstances and benefits to those of somebody who is less fortunate which is very much the case in the story when it comes to Lushkov and Skvortsov. Though it would appear that Skvortsov was thinking of others the reality is that he was judgemental of Lushkov considering him to be no more than a liar and an alcoholic. Both of which was true but Lushkov through Olga’s guidance showed that he is so much more to offer. That he is just as good as others even though he may have had difficult circumstances to overcome.