‘A Day in the Country’ by Anton Chekhov: Short Story Analysis
‘A Day in the Country’ is a realistic short story about the beauties of nature and true friendship penned and published on the 19th of May 1886 by Russian short-story writer Anton Chekhov. Chekhov is one of the greatest Russian short-story writers and one of the best proponents of short fiction writing the world has ever known. His works are popular in many countries and have been translated into many languages. In ‘A Day in the Country’, Chekhov draws the reader’s attention to the love shared by three poor individuals: a cobbler and two beggar children. Other than their poverty and friendship, they share a genuine love for nature. Their love for nature has been nurtured by the fact that they lived in the country, and since they all were homeless, they spent most of their days in the open without a proper shelter over their heads. The cobbler teaches the two children Danilka and Fyokla, aged eight and six, the wonders of nature. He is their teacher, and their schoolbook is the environment. The story highlights the main themes of love for nature, friendship, poverty, and commune living in late nineteenth-century Russia. ‘A Day in the Country’ is one of the more popular short stories of Anton Chekhov.
The story starts with the arrival of a storm accompanied by rain, lightning, and thunder. Fyokla fears the storm but searches for the cobbler Terenty so that he could pull out her brother Danilka’s hand from the rent or hole in a lime tree. The lime tree was in the copse of a Count. A copse is a group of trees grown for aesthetic beauty. One can see here a great chasm between the rich and poor in Russia before the October Revolution. However, unlike other Chekhov short stories, the trio is content with their lot. Instead, they are happy, fun-loving, and live in the moment because of their mutual love for each other and nature. This short story celebrates life in the country, the country folk’s and the beggars resilience, and how they take charge of their own lives in the face of the rich and the privileged’s indifference.
The storm scares Fyokla but not Danilka, who is busy admiring nature amid the storm. There is a hint that Terenty was slightly afraid of the storm as it was an out-of-the-season storm and because he was drunk. He helps pull Danilka’s hand out of the rent in the lime tree. Terenty here represents the Christ figure or the God figure. The short story resembles the story in Genesis, where God introduces his Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve. In the same way, during the storm, Terenty showcases the beauty of mother nature to the two children, especially to Danilka, the Adam figure in this short story. Danilka looks at everything with wonderment. Fyokla is more practical and not so attuned to nature as Danilka, thereby almost resembling Eve’s few negative characteristics. Terenty is further ratified as the God-like figure with his constant swearing in God and heaven’s name and the fact that he uses several holy phrases to add meaning to his words and descriptions of nature.
Even in their poverty, the trio rejoices in the glory of mother nature. The glory of nature is unfolded to them through the following:
- The storm.
- The lime tree.
- The wet grass and trees.
- The dusty earth.
- The cuckoo bird’s nest.
- The nightingale’s nest.
- The sun.
- The wet clay.
- The migrating ducks.
- The sparrow.
- The ants in the ant-heap.
- The bees on the branch of a tree.
- The Spanish flies.
- The herbs
- The river banks.
- The fish in the river.
- The viper or water snake in the river.
There are several Biblical allusions in this short story. One of them is the repeated symbols of bread and water, which are the main spiritual food and symbols of Christianity and depict the ministry and personage of Christ. Notice that, like Christ, Terenty serves the bread to the children every day when they are asleep in the barn, while the children, especially innocent Danilka, share the bread with Terenty during the day. In other words, everything is in the form of a circle like an ecosystem; everything comes from God and ends with God. The sharing of the bread in the latter part of the story resembles a very naturistic ‘breaking the bread’ scene, a sacred act started by Lord Jesus to symbolize the breaking of his ‘body’ for the sake of the salvation of souls. In the latter part of the story, Danilka sees a fish and a viper or snake in the river. This indicates the communal existence of the fish, the symbol of Lord Jesus, and the snake, the symbol of Satan, who tempted not only Eve but also tempts the whole of humankind.
The many animals, insects, and birds mentioned in the text symbolize the Garden of Eden. However, unlike the Biblical Adam and Eve, Danilka and Fyolka are still innocent and very much in love with the Christ figure or Terenty, who shows everything in nature to them as God revealed the beauty of the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve as mentioned in the Holy Bible. Terenty also makes a direct allusion to the Passion of Christ when he says about the treachery of the sparrows who brought the nails of the Cross to the Jews. Sparrows are symbols of freedom, especially of the soul’s freedom to choose between good and evil. The sparrows mentioned by Terenty are those sparrows who chose evil over good. A verse in the Gospels continues the discussion of worrying about material provisions in connection to sparrows. In this verse, Jesus tells his followers not to be anxious about food but to rely on God, as do the birds or sparrows, who though worth far less than people, are fully provided for.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.—Matthew 10:29–31
Also, notice Terenty mentions that the nightingale is the most sacred of all birds because it sings the praises of the Lord with its melodious voice, indicative of the singing of praises to the Lord through Psalms. The nightingale has a long history with symbolic associations ranging from creativity, the muse, nature’s purity, and, in Western spiritual tradition, virtue, and goodness. Coleridge and Wordsworth saw the nightingale more as an instance of natural poetic creation: the nightingale became a voice of nature.
The last Bible allusion is when Terenty tells the fretting Fyokla that after the storm, the earth would be dry again and that the sun would shine down the same on all of them. There is a direct similarity here to the Gospels:
- The calming of the storm, which started while the Lord Jesus was asleep in the boat.
- That the sun shines down on both the good and the wicked giving warmth to both; therefore, human beings should not discriminate among each other.
So that you may be sons of your Father in the heavens. For He makes His sun rise on evil and good, and He sends rain on righteous and unrighteous.—Matthew 5:45
Danilka has complete faith in Terenty. But Terenty, unlike Christ, shows that even he can falter. We see this in his love for drinks as he loves to go to the tavern. Also, Terenty knows everything about nature but nothing about trains, steam, and coal. This is because he is a countryman at heart, and he is a person set apart from the materialistic world which would later dominate the USSR of the twentieth century. Thus, even in this country place, signs of wickedness in the form of materialism and capitalism are shown appearing. Notice from history that although the people were generally poor in Tsarist Russia yet, they were not all that worse than what became of them once the USSR was established. The country people in this story lived the way the early Christians used to live as mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, as a commune or a community of people holding most things in common, leading God-fearing lives, and given to works of mercy and acts of charity. These people were not proud scholars or theologians but simple people educated by nature: the true Holy Book and whose teachers were Mother Nature, the most important teacher one needs to live on this Earth.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.—Acts 4:32–35
Throughout the text, Terenty keeps on telling the children not to be afraid. Christ also kept on telling his disciples throughout his ministry that one should not be afraid. This is ironic because it is evident that even Terenty sometimes was afraid, like in the case of the storm that was not abating. The trio has no place to rest their heads; they are homeless and vagabonds. However, they believe in the love shared between them and the country folk’s respect and so live together in harmony. They live as a commune. This is quite prophetic of Chekhov and yet not so prophetic because the rural people residing in USSR were worse off than the rural people of Tsarist Russia.
The children trust Terenty and absorb everything that he tells them and ponder them when they are resting in the barn. They take nature seriously and, through Terenty, want to know more about Mother Nature. Thoughts haunt them, especially Danilka, but he is confident that his ‘faith’ in Terenty will solve all his issues. And Terenty does care for them. On his way back to his side of the village, he places a loaf of bread under the beggar children’s straw pillows before he goes on his way. Respect for Mother Nature is central to this short story. The celebration of creation in all its wonder is at the heart of this tale of vagabonds on the brink of a new age of urbanism and feigned dialectic materialism – preached more than practiced.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short story by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. I have reviewed many of his short stories, which you can check out here. I have Anton Chekhov’s entire literary collection in my library, which I hope to read, review, and analyze for you. If you love short stories and would like to read a good LGBTQIA short story collection, you can check out my book The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name on my blog’s products page. I hope to read more works by Russian writers soon.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out my blog’s products page. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2021 Fiza Pathan