The tone of racism in literature overflows as these stories present illustrations of the atrocities committed towards prejudiced people, most of the time African Americans. The common subjects in those literary works usually tackle slavery and racial segregation or racial hierarchy. Often, the poems and stories depict in its simplest form the rampant racism especially in the early days when slavery was the norm. Anton Chekhov, a Russian writer, succeeded to depict the severity of racism while using a subtle tone in his short story, Aborigines.
Who is Anton Chekhov?
Anton Chekhov was a Russian physician, the master of modern short stories and was also a playwright. He once said that "medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other." As a child, Chekhov was exposed to financial struggles where his father was had no choice but to move to Moscow with his family in order to escape the creditors. At the time, Anton still had 3 years left to finish school so he decided to stay and make money on his own to pay for his tuition and also send some to his family in Moscow.
Anton, in order to make money, caught and sold goldfinches, conducted private tutoring lessons, and sold some sketches to newspapers. 4 years later, Chekhov was admitted to a medical school where he got the chance to rejoin his family in Moscow. While attending Moscow State University, he assumed the role of a breadwinner to his family. Again, he used his skill in writing to provide for his family. He usually writes about the contemporary Russian life and also humorous stories and underscoring his characters’ motives with hidden agenda that goes beyond what can be seen on the surface of their everyday life.
By the age of 26, Anton managed to publish about 400 short stories along with sketches and vignettes. His stories were known for its straightforwardness and his lack of using intrusive literary devices. Because of that, his short stories do not contain complex plots and instead focuses on trivialities that creates a seemingly haunting, or sometimes lyrical, atmosphere. His experience of being separated from his family for a number of years has been reflected in some of his works, namely: Vanka, The Steppe, and Sleepy.
His satire short story, Aborigines, was written in May 18, 1887 and had it published under the chapter Love and Other Stories in the thirteenth volume of his collection of short stories entitled The Essential Tales of Chekhov. In Aborigines, Chekhov is determined to demonstrate how the power of racism still shows regardless of form. He does so by veiling racism in subtlety. Aborigines is no doubt a satirical work but the racist tone the protagonist takes will surely be disapproved of today’s modern society where any form of racism is frowned upon.
Summary of Aborigines
Anton Chekhov’s Aborigines revolves around an excessively grumpy retired Polish lieutenant by the name Ivan Lyashkevsky. He had suffered a head injury sometime and who lives relying on his pension in a town in one of Russia’s southern provinces. The short story spans a single day in the old man’s life and sheds light on how much he despises the aborigines of Russia. As with Chekhov’s other works, Aborigines doesn’t involve complex storylines and is written in a simple manner.
In the story, Lyashkevsky had been visited by Franz Stepanitch Finks, the town architect who is a German, who has been called on by a local girls’ high school to come immediately and inspect the wall of the cellar as it seems to be deteriorating. However, before passing by the school to do his job, Finks decided to drop by Lyashkevsky’s to pay him a visit and chat for a while.
Both Lyashkevsky and Finks are looking out the window, at Lyashkevsky’s native landlord. All the while, Lyashkevsky’s been harshly condescending the man’s way of living and generalizing the rest of the Russians along with his landlord. Finks listens and offers supplements to Lyashkevsky’s sentiments at times. Lyashkevsky becomes enraged after his landlord buys and begins cracking sunflower seeds. He proceeded to curse at his landlord, who seemed unaffected by all the cursing.
Finks recalls how he has to listen to Lyashkevsky’s rants on the good-for-nothing aborigines every single time he pays the man a visit. At this, he recalls he has to go to the girls’ high school to check on the deteriorating wall of the cellar. He bids farewell to Lyashkevsky who tells him to sit down for a while and drink tea with him. Lyashkevsky, while obediently drinking his tea, proceeds with discriminating the aborigines of the land, mainly his inept jobless landlord, once again.
Then, Lyashkevsky implores Finks to join him in a game of piquet to which Finks accepts – with hesitation – as he reminds himself and Lyashkevsky that he must hurry and go to the girls’ high school. Once again, they sit by the open window and begin to play piquet when a neighbor from the house opposite to his landlord’s comes out to greet the man. This of course upsets Lyashkevsky even more.
The men proceed to play piquet and Finks was once again delayed on his actual mission for the day. He was stuck playing piquet at Lyashkevsky’s until lunchtime came and was then served with food. They ate their fill, still situated by the window, while continuing to play and berating the aborigines. By three o’clock, Finks once again states that he has to leave. This time, Lyashkevsky invites him to have dinner with him. Finks agrees on the condition that the dinner lasts no more than ten minutes.
After dinner, Finks sits on the sofa while thinking of the cracked wall on the girls’ high school. He falls fast asleep, much to the disapproval of Lyashkevsky. It took Finks 3 hours to wake up from his slumber. And when he woke up, he challenged Lyashkevsky for another game of piquet since it is now too late for him to go to the school anyway. Finks finally succeeds to leave Lyashkevsky’s residence after staying for 12 hours at the place.
After Finks took his leave, Lyashkevsky reveals feelings of animosity towards the German architect. He grumbles about Finks’ laziness, then looks over to his window but his aborigine landlord was no longer there. Having absolutely nothing to complain about for the first time that day, he picks on his armchair and the faulty springs of his bed instead. The story ends with Lyashkevsky falling asleep and dreaming of “pouring boiling water over the natives, Finks, and the old armchair.”
Analysis of Aborigines
Aborigines’ stark difference from other stories that depict racism is obvious. The short story is completely devoid of slavery, physical violence, the clear racial hierarchical order between black and white people, and other atrocities which are usually present in stories interlaced with racism. In Aborigines, Chekhov was trying to inform his readers that racism is not only limited to violent acts, slavery, and the likes. In fact, racism can also take on the form of unreasonable criticism which is completely based on unfounded beliefs.
Besides showing that racism can take on a different form other than the usual violence, Chekhov also demonstrated through his short story that the idea of racism can be passed on from man to man. Racism need not be out in the open, racist thoughts can also exist within a restricted space. And those racist thoughts can be passed on to another by simply declaring one’s hatred over and over again.
In addition, it can be observed in Chekhov’s short story that not once has Lyashkevsky stepped out of his house. He only berates the aborigines from the window in the safety of his lodgings – which is provided by the one he is condescending. Lyashkevsky’s isolation and looking through the window reflects the single-mindedness of people with such racist beliefs. Racism causes people to have a very narrow perspective. They will refuse to accept ideologies and beliefs that is different from theirs, even if only slightly.
Even worse, racism is like a disease that spreads to those who are exposed to it. It can be seen in the way Finks responded to Lyashkevsky’s comments about the activities of his landlord. However, it must be kept in mind that Finks does not feel the same resentment Lyashkevsky does towards the aborigines. In fact, he initially attempted to hamper his friend’s usual outburst of emotion. Finks sees reason as to why the aborigines had been acting the way they did yet he was eventually influenced by Lyashkevsky.
Furthermore, Finks listens to the same tirade from Lyashkevsky each time he visits the man. This routine occurrence must have hindered Finks from having any progress with the actual task at hand each time he visits Lyashkevsky. This can be evidenced by the way he gave in to Lyashkevsky’s offers to stay for a while longer at his home for a couple times in the story. Lyashkevsky’s urging Finks to stay leads to the man doing the exact opposite of being conducive to progress.
As mentioned in the story, it is obvious that Lyashkevsky despises unproductiveness and utter laziness. He doesn’t seem to understand why he witnesses the aborigines living a carefree life every single time he gazes out his window. He is constantly criticizing the race of being stagnant, broken-down, and good-for-nothing. By hindering Finks from doing his job the whole day, he is being the perpetrator of the thing he hates the most.
In the end, even Finks himself got criticized by Lyashkevsky for being lazy. Lyashkevsky has failed to consider his role as to why his friend had failed to be productive that day. It is almost like Lyashkevsky forgot about how he kept on rambling about his distaste for Russia’s aborigines and asked Finks to stay for a game of piquet or dinner. Both of what Lyashkevsky had done has prevented the German architect from doing the job as he was supposed to earlier that day.
From this, a chain reaction may take place with the root cause of all possible unfortunate incidents being Lyashkevsky and his endless complaints on Russia’s aborigines. His aborigine landlord may already be beginning to feel pity and hatred for himself because of Lyashkevsky’s judgments. Finks being unable to attend to his duty may cause the high school to collapse, taking the children’s chance of education along with it. This two instances are only the start of a terrible chain of events that may start because of one man’s unreasonable racism.
Checkhov in Aborigines showed how dangerous racism can be – even in its subtlest form. Racism is indeed powerful as it grows in a person and has the ability to spread to another. For many, racism in the real world and in literature is considered as rife with physical violence, slavery, and racial discrimination. In Aborigines, only Lyashkevsky’s words are explicitly tinged with racism. Lyashkevsky’s words – even if he is an outward advocate of progress – does not offer any form of advancement at all. There is only hatred and lethargic energy emanating from it.
However, Chekhov wanted to show his readers that there is more to what meets the eye. Racism, no matter how subtle and partially inflicted deals the same damage and is just as dangerous. Not a single person would be aware of what is happening since there is only a single window to peek out from, and Lyashkevsky is always there to guard and to keep gushing out discriminatory words. Chekhov introduces racism in his story beyond its well-known manifestations.
Chekhov urges his readers to go beyond looking at a single perspective and to check if there is a similar injury in their heads, so shall students do the same in writing their literature reviews. Although, doing this requires research along with immense creative and writing skills and most students simply do not have the luxury of indulging themselves in the literature they have to write about. If you want to submit such a meaningful paper to your professor, you should hire a professional writer from us at CustomEssayMeister. CustomEssayMeister provides quality custom essays that is sure to not get flagged by TurnItIn and impress your professor. What are you waiting for? Create an order now.
Checkhov, Anton. “Love and Other Stories.” The Essential Tales of Chekhov, Ecco, 2005, Aborigines.
Hingley, Ronald Francis. “Anton Chekhov.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 Jan. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Anton-Chekhov.