The Shoemaker and the Devil by Anton Chekhov

In The Shoemaker and the Devil by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of struggle, envy, happiness and insecurity. Taken from his Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story it is important to remember that the majority of the story is a dream, a dream that Fyodor Nilov has had. He doesn’t really meet the Devil rather his tired mind imagines that he has and that he has signed his soul away to the Devil in order to be rich. Despite this there is no disputing that Fyodor is struggling. He is a poor shoemaker who barely makes a living and is envious of others who have a rich life and a beautiful wife. Two things that Fyodor believes will make him happy. All though this is not how things work out for Fyodor.

If anything Fyodor is unhappy with the changes that the Devil has made in his life. He is unable to find any satisfaction and is left feeling as out of place as when he was poor. This is noticeable when Fyodor is in the church. He begins to pray the same way as he has always prayed as a poor man and realizes that he will end up in the same earth as those who are poorer than him. It is as though Fyodor’s new found wealth has no real meaning. He remains dissatisfied. Similarly when Fyodor sings in the street he is reprimanded by a policeman because gentlemen are not supposed to sing like beggars in the street. Even cab drivers tell Fyodor that he is acting like a beggar. This may be significant as it suggests a lack of real change in Fyodor’s life. As a rich man he is doing the same things he does as a beggar. However it is noticeable that he scorns Kuzma Lebyodkin for the state of his new shoes. Fyodor does not think they are good quality and that he has been swindled by Kuzma.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The money that Fyodor hoards and continually counts can be seen to represent Fyodor’s insecurity with his new found wealth. Instead of the money proving Fyodor with financial security he is afraid that he or his new home will be robbed. Fyodor’s new wife can be seen to symbolize women in general and Fyodor’s inability to fully understand the wants and needs of a woman. Fyodor slaps his wife on the back as a sign of fondness but she does not like it, suggesting to Fyodor that it would be more appropriate if he kissed her hand like a gentleman. Something that Fyodor is simply not despite his new found riches. This may be significant as Chekhov may be suggesting money does not change a person. It may change their lifestyle but it will not change a person’s attitude to others. If anything Fyodor’s relationship with his wife might be deemed by some readers to be brutish.

The end of the story is interesting because as readers we come to learn that Fyodor has fallen asleep while making the customers boots. He has not met the Devil at all nor has he signed his soul away. Something that brings great relief to Fyodor who walks to church without criticizing the other people he has seen. This may also be important as for the first time in the story Fyodor is not envious or jealous of others. He is happy with his lot and relieved to be a simple, poor shoemaker. As for the customer that Fyodor thought was the Devil. It turns out that he is a pyrotechnician who makes Bengal lights and fireworks. Which would explain the incident when Fyodor first went to the customer’s home to measure him.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Shoemaker and the Devil by Anton Chekhov." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 11 Aug. 2022. Web.

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