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Book Review: The Beggar by Anton Chekhov

Can your advice change a beggar’s life? Well, this story – The Beggar by Anton Chekhov – is about a young man who by choice becomes a beggar but the good thing is that he comes out of it somehow. The story opens with the advocate Sergei in the market with his cook. A young beggar is asking for alms from him – the beggar is saying that he was a schoolteacher but lost his place there because of internal politics.

Sergei focuses on the beggar and catches his lie. Sergei had met this beggar earlier and that time the beggar posed himself as a student. When confronted, the beggar confesses to his lie and says that people wouldn’t believe him that he was a singer in Russian Choir but expelled from there for drunkenness. Sergei offers him work in his wood shed. The beggar out of shame and fake pride takes up the work. Because of drunkenness, he is staggering and reluctant for work. Olga, the cook, takes him to the wood shed and handles him a billet of wood for chopping. After the work, the beggar is rewarded with half a rouble.

After this, on the first day of the month the beggar makes his appearance and earns half a rouble by chopping wood. In fact whenever he appears there, he gets some or other work. He also cleaned and shoveled snow from the way. When Sergei is changing home, the beggar is called out to shift the luggage and furniture. But there he couldn’t work instead got sneered by carters. Seeing this, Sergei comes to him and offers a rouble for his pain and says that he is happy that his words changed his life. Sergei asks his name and the beggar says that his name is Lushkoff.

Next, Sergei sees that Lushkoff has changed since that day and thus offers him a letter of recommendation and asks him if can work as a writer/typewriter.

After two years Sergei happens to meet him again at a ticket counter of a theatre. This time Lushkoff looks like a man of value and well-dressed. Upon confronting Lushkoff says that now he is a notary and receives thirty five roubles per month. Sergei says that he is happy to hear that his words changed someone’s life. Lushkoff corrects him by saying that it was his cook Olga who changed him. Further, he narrates that he never chopped any wood but it was that lady and that lady’s concern and tears that changed him. After clearing the air, Lushkoff moves ahead to the gallery.

The story takes place in Russia and probably it was first written in Russian and then translated into other languages. It is a classic example of irony in literature.


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