Reversal of roles in Anton Chekhov’s Heartache
Antony Chekov was one of the greatest short story writers in Russian literature. He had the gift of presenting an ordinary event in a very extraordinary way. Heartache is perhaps such kind of a story in which Chekhov has presented a very ordinary story from everyday life in a very powerful way. While doing it he has used reversal of role among human and animal and this way readers can practically rethink about an ordinary event in the life of an ordinary man.
After the death of the son of Iona Potapov, he broke down emotionally from grief. However, life is tough for poor people and he had to keep on working as a cabby to earn his livelihood. While carrying people in his horse carriage, he tried to tell the passengers about his sorrow. His passengers were from middle class or rich families and they just got annoyed with him for this. They were more concerned to reach their destination in time. Iona’s heart only became heavier as he could not share his sorrows and at the end he decided to tell the story of his grief to his horse who was voiceless but attentive listener. Thus at the end the horse turned out to be an animal with humanity while the human beings with animal instincts.
When a person acts badly then others call that he is bad like a beast. Calling a human being as ‘bitch’ or ‘pig’ can ignite terrible passion in the persons as they would feel that they had been humiliated by comparing with animals. We like to think humans as superior to animals because animals only eat, sleep, kill and give birth. On the other hand, we have our civilization, kindness, knowledge and humanity. In the story ‘Heartache’Chekhov has depicted the dark side of humanity and he has shown that the dark side of humanity is even worse than animal behavior and aracteristics. The passengers could easily see that something was wrong with Iona but they simply did not care because they were too much consumed with their own interest just as the animals are busy with eating, sleeping and giving birth to new children. These passengers of Iona are only concerned with their own benefit and did not care about Iona’s misery because it contained no benefit for them. If Iona was a prince or rich businessman or high government official, they would all have got sympathized or at least would pretend to be sad that a father had lost his only son. Even these people would have pretended to be sad if the dog of a prince had died. Since, Iona was a poor man his son’s life did not have any value to the passengers.
Chekhov’s story takes place in Russia but it has a universal appeal. Even in our own time and in our own city Dhaka, we can find similar examples all around us all the time. Many times, we get on a rickshaw and the rickshaw puller tells us a tragic story about his son being sick or sister needing to get married. Most of the times, we either try to avoid getting sympathetic as it could cost us money or assume that the man is telling a fake tragic story just to get some extra money by falsehood. Hardly any of us show any sympathy to such a rickshaw puller let alone actually lend a helping hand. The worst brutality that can be found among us is that many of us always make fun of these poor people by telling that they are cheating us with fabricated stories. It is really funny that we forget the fact that more than 50% of our people live below the poverty line and cannot even get enough to eat three times. Thus if we just think of our society then we can find whether Chekhov’s
short story “Heartache” has a universal appeal or not. If only we had a powerful story teller like Chekhov, then our animal side would become apparent in our literature.