Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

01 Jun 2011

(Short Story) Death of a Government Clerk by: Anton Chekhov

(Reaction) Toady by: Antonio Conejos

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The key question for Chekhov's short story is why does Chervyakov, the obsequious government clerk, keel over dead at the end of the story? The answer is that Chekhov's short story is a study of character and it is because of his character (or lack thereof) that Chervyakov drops stone dead at the end of the story.

One of the windows into Chervyakov's character is his dialogue, which throughout the story is filled with stammers and trains of thought; the man cannot even convey a complete sentence in full. Moreover, the content of his speech is perennially filled with apologies and self doubts: I really didn't intend... I had absolutely no intention of... extremely sorry...

It is clear that Chervyakov lives to ingratiate himself with his superiors. Thus he is agonized when his apology for a trivial matter to General Brizzhalov is constantly rebuffed. And when it becomes clear that he no longer has a reason to live, ie. he cannot get Brizzhalov to like him, Chervyakov fittingly stops living, In the living body of Chervyakov something snapped.. he lay down on the divan and died.

Death of a government clerk finds its impetus in the character of the clerk and then logically, even cruelly, tries to see how far the clerk's character flaw can be stretched before it snaps. Chervyakov's flaw is clear in his dialogue to how his single obsession is to hear redemption from Brizzhalov, a man who is not even his direct superior. Ultimately it is this fatal flaw which Chervyakov expires from.


A short and insightful story, well constructed without being flashy, as Chekhov is wont to do.

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