Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

12 Aug 2011

(Short Story) Sunstroke by: Ivan Bunin

(Reaction) The glow of youth by: Antonio Conejos

Sunstroke is a good example of a short story whose themes are reflected in its setting. Thus this burst of youthful energy, when the lieutenant and the lovely stranger are in each other arms infatuated with each other, positively glows from the surroundings of the story.

The dining room is brilliantly lighted while the curve of their journey is described as with Volga friskiness the steamer cut a sharp curve. After the couple has their tryst, the morning welcomes them, gay with the ringing of church bells, with the humming in the market-place facing the hotel. Just as the characters are suffused with the warmth of passion, so too does everything around them come alive.

When the lovely stranger leaves the lieutenant falls into a surprised despondency. This change of mood is reflected in the setting as well. The Volga is no longer frisky but an immeasurable expanse (a description which emphasizes distance and lethargy rather than energy and vigor). The marketplace was dispersing while in the church chanting was going on; it was loud and cheerful and determined, as if the chanters were conscious of the fulfillment of a duty. Without the woman, everything around the lieutenant is cheerless and sad.

Both the lieutenant and the lovely stranger refer to their brief but intense relationship as a sunstroke. Indeed the analogy is apt as you feel energized and aglow while sunbathing. But stay in the sun too long and one gets sunburned - that which you gave you so much happiness can also you cause intense pain. Similarly, after the lieutenant's burst of passion for the Fairyland Queen (another name given by the lovely stranger) he feels drained, conscious of having aged by ten years.


According to the editors of the short story anthology where I read Sunstroke, Somerset Maugham considered it one of the world's best stories. I'm not sure who's pulling my leg, those editors or Maugham, but I failed to find anything remarkable about this piece.

On a technical level the reader recognizes the writer's craft in how the moods of the characters are reflected in the story's setting. Yet on an emotional level I didn't connect with the story at all. It was, frankly, even a bit tedious to read.

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