‘A Story Without A Title’ by Anton Chekhov: Short Story Analysis
‘A Story Without A Title’ is a parable-like story about how well-uttered or well-spoken words can influence the actions of people. When a speaker is charismatic like the Father Superior in this short story, then it is very easy to sway the listener’s mind to whatever the speaker hints at directly or indirectly. We know in the story that the monks lived simple lives, but that was because their leader was so charismatic in his songs, poems, and sermons that the monks were content to live their lives in solitude. The moment the Father Superior goes away for three months and then comes back to tell the tale of the terrible sensually satisfying life that was being practiced in the town across the desert, the way he spoke of the town mesmerized the monks. The next day when the Father Superior awoke, there was no monk left in the monastery; all had gone to town giving up their secluded life.
Note the great importance of this story on the power of human speech and oratorical skills. The Father Superior had these skills which were the reason why his monks lived satisfied lives distant from town life. Note also the following themes that crop up in this story:
- The simple lives of the monks indicative of a life without the need or desire for extravagance and sensual fulfillment.
- The fickle-mindedness of the monks who were easily swayed by the oratorical powers of the Father Superior.
- The Drunk Hunter being a tempter to disrupt the simple way of life of the monks but who did so for a good cause.
- The way the Drunk Hunter felt that the simple mundane lives of the monks were a waste of time. For the Drunk Hunter, he liked monks or men of God who served people. In other words, he believed in ‘actions’, not escapism.
The Drunk Hunter did not like the idea of the secluded lives of the monks and felt they were needed in the nearby town which according to him was drowning in sin. This instigates the suggestable Father Superior to leave the monastery and see what town life was like.
As you can see, there are several elements to this story. I want to dwell on the behavior of the Father Superior after he returned from the town. Notice that he was weeping, not uttering a word, locking himself up in his cell, not eating or drinking, et al. This is highly indicative that he too was having a tug of war with his fickle mind about the bounty in the town, its freestyle of living, and its grandeur. Maybe he was battling with his urge to live a life in the town which he felt was depraved or, he was so overcome by the free life that it overwhelmed him to a sorrowful state. It is possible that he was genuinely concerned about the depravity of town life. He was the smartest of all the other monks so probably he felt terrible for the town people who were living such terrible nay, in his eyes, ‘sinful’ lives that it overwhelmed his simple and innocent heart.
The monks were of the type who have abandoned society; that is obvious. They have entered the monastery as if they were entering their own grave. They were:
- Easily suggestible.
- Were fine as long as they had a leader to guide them even in their mundane lives.
- They had no notion of life outside the monastery and so the words of the Father Superior had a great impact on them.
Maybe they were aware of the pleasures of life, but since they were being fed by the sermons, songs, et al., of the Father Superior, that gave them the courage to live their simple lives and prefer it to a free life in the outside world.
You notice also that there is a trick played by the short story writer Chekhov in this story. While in the first part of the story the monks are ‘directly’ affected by the words of the Father Superior, in the second part when he talks about the sinful life of the town people, they are indirectly affected by the words. In this case, they were so enamored by that free and sensual life that they left the monastery. This is highly indicative of a lack of discernment in interpreting information.
This story deals with the fundamental theme in Christianity that a free life is a life of sin. Christianity is a religion that wants its followers to curb their desires and passions. Therefore, to the Father Superior, the sights he saw of:
- The half-naked women trying to seduce the drunk men to use her.
- The drunk men freely spending a lot of gold like there was no tomorrow.
- The sight of so many horse races, bullfights, and theatres.
- Artists and sculptors making clay models of naked women.
All these sights scandalized him and so he retreated into himself. The words of lust used by Chekhov is suggestive of slight erotica but only a bit. The idea that a woman giving in to her passions of seduction and lust makes her ‘a reptile’ or ‘dark-skinned’ is indicative of Chekhov’s racial prejudices as well as his sexism. The erotica matter is controlled by Chekhov’s strong hand but tells us enough of the abandon with which the townspeople were living their lives.
The socialism aspect rears its head a bit here in this story as the Father Superior when he went to the town found the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer which made the town and the world to be an abode of vice. He especially saw the ‘devil’ or the devil having control in human lives when he saw the vast economic disparity between the rich and the poor. The Father Superior sadly, because of his excellent descriptions, is left with no more monks to work with. The ending is a wry humorous anticlimax.
About the title of the story: If it is not something on the personal life of Anton Chekhov then probably the title is thus constructed because of the anticlimax at the end. Also, maybe Chekhov is trying to point to the fact of how words can easily sway a human being and so has left this story without a title, lest someone else should go astray. The title also could be a simple ploy to attract the attention of the reader.
I love analyzing Chekhov’s short stories; they just melt in the mouth. I’ve got some really good Anton Chekhov biographies in my possession and I hope to get my hands on them when I’m back in my office. Chekhov is a fascinating short-story writer and I simply cannot get enough of him.
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