Cheryl's Reviews > An Upheaval

An Upheaval by Anton Chekhov
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Jun 06, 12

bookshelves: short-story
Read in June, 2012

In AN UPHEAVAL, a short story by Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the governess Mashenka returned home from a walk to find the household in turmoil. The staff were excited, red in the face and crying, but all were submissive due to their dependent positions upon the rich and powerful. Loud voices summoned her upstairs to her room where the lady of the house, Fedosya, had rummaged through her work-bag. Her money-box lock had been scratched, and her books and bed linens all showed signs of a search.

But what was she looking for? "Mistress has lost a brooch worth two thousand," said the maid-servant. All persons had been searched naked and threatened with police arrest. Mashenka protested with indignation, "it's vile...it's insulting" and "what right had she to suspect me and rummage through my things?"

Chekhov, a physician and prolific writer, disavowed moralizing leaving the burden of judgment to the reader which is often the heavier load. He names the responsible person for the theft of the brooch...it is Fedosy's husband Nikolay, who attempts first to apologize for his wife's invasive actions and then confesses to the deed explaining that he needed the money and "she won't give it to me." Nikolay pleads with Mashenka to stay, because her leaving will mean "there won't be a human face left in the house."

Mashenka continues to pack, and in response to his confession and begging, simply shakes her head.

The writer of plays (The Seagull), novellas (The Steppe), and short stories (The Lady With The Dog) ushered in modernism with such methods as stream of consciousness, subtext, and plots that state a problem without solving it. The character's thoughts and feelings are often suggested with a nod or a word leaving the reader to fill in the missing dialogue and resolve the conflict.

AN UPHEAVAL continues one of Chekhov's writing aims: to focus on Russia's culture in the late nineteenth century. He commented privately about man's nature in letters and note-books saying, "Hypocrisy is a revolting, psychopathic state" to his friend Leontev in 1888. Moral ambiguity is addressed in "Out Beggary" when he writes, "It's immoral to steal, but you can take things."

Leaving the power of judgment and plot resolution to the reader shows the author's upmost respect for each of us. Highly Recommended!
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