The given lines are being extracted from Anton Chekhov’s short story “Misery”. “To whom shall I tell my grief?” expresses Iona Potapov, the protagonist of the story. Set in the backdrop of the nineteenth century, Russia, the story revolves around the hardships faced by a sledge driver named, Iona Potapov. The character is grief stricken, as he lost his only son due to his untimely death and Iona finds it difficult to cope up with the huge loss. Iona is an old sledge driver, whose main intention is to share the grief of his son’s death, by talking to someone who can understand his terrible loss. Anton Chekhov depicts the Iona’s character as dazed, lonely, confused and someone who needs to share his emotions, which all human beings require during hardships (Farajzadeh and Ameri 2016).
Anton Chekhov’s story is being set in the backdrop of 1860s Russia, during the period of Great Reforms of the farmers’ enslavement. Iona Potapov is a poor peasant, who migrated along with his son to St. Petersburg in order to find some work. It is mentioned in the story that he was once rich, but due to the social reforms he lost his work and financial support. His wife already died and he left his daughter back, where he used to live. Iona’s son was the only support, with whom he was close in the new place. The story directly didn’t signify the bond they shared, but it made the readers very clear that Iona loved his son too much and now after losing him he is in an anguish state (May 2013). The character was so grief stricken that he wanted to share his feelings with someone, in order to feel better. Chekhov here portrays that nobody had the interest or time to listen what the poor sledge driver was saying. This proves that Iona was being alienated and neglected by the passengers, as nobody paid attention to him on that snowy night (Kidd and Castano 2013).
Each and every individual needs moral support to deal with their sufferings. In this case, Iona has faced a huge loss and he is not ready to cope up with it. He needs someone’s help to share his pain or to ease the pain, he is bearing. Iona is a poor, frail and a lonely cabman who sits on his sledge and mourns over his son’s death earlier the week. The night was cold and big snowflakes were whirling around streetlamps (Reid 2017). Chekhov mentioned that Iona was less concerned about the weather, through his lines, “If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as though even then he would not think it necessary to shake it off.” All he is concerned about is his son’s untimely death. He is extremely grief stricken and wants to share his pain with someone (Barnett 2013).
Passengers came and asked Iona to drive them to their destinations. Iona raises the topic of his son’s untimely death to each and everyone, but all he receives insults, cruelty and indifference. He tries to talk regarding his son’s death in order to lessen the burden, but the passengers seemed less interested in listening to his sad story. They are more concerned about their arrival to the respective destinations (Clayton and Meerzon 2013). On reaching, the passengers gave money and left. Iona was all alone as the passengers disappeared into the dark entry. He is left only with silence and darkness, which signifies his fate and destiny. After his son died, he is only left with misery, which comes again and again and tears him from inside. He tries to find someone from the crowd on the streets, in order to share his pain, someone with whom Iona can share his feelings and tell his grief. He helplessly searches for people who are ready to give him their valuable time (Fallon et al. 2013).
Iona’s misery is beyond all the bounds, life has given him immense misery. On raising his son’s topic to one of the passengers, he received a very cold reply. “We shall all die” is one of the responses, which surprised Iona. Even a passenger strikes him on his back for wasting their valuable time. Iona seeks the answer to his question, “To whom shall I tell my grief?” and the answer to this question is “No one.” The streets are filled with many people, moving to and fro on both the sides, but he cannot “find among those thousands, someone who will listen to him.” His heart is filled with pain and sufferings, he is deeply moved after his son’s death and if his heart bursts out, it will flood the whole world (Woolf and Chekhov 2013). Iona further attempts to share his pain with a house porter, by asking him what time it was. His reply was short and he asked Iona not to stop as it was quite late. With great pain and sorrow, Iona leaves the place after knowing the time. He searches for new places and people, who according to him will be available for providing him with assistance and support (Gilbourne, Jones and Jordan 2014).
However, his attempts failed and he was disappointed to see that people have no time for him. They are busy in their own world, with their own thoughts and sufferings. Iona, at this point of time feels that, “it is no good to appeal to people.” He is extremely disappointed with people’s attitude towards his misery and no longer finds it appealing to share his feelings with them (Patea 2012). At the same time, he cannot bear the sharp pain which affects him so much and “he can bear it no longer.” The author of the story mentions here, how fast people’s lives have become. Nobody has time to listen to each one’s opinions. In the end, after so many failed attempts, Iona expresses his sorrow to a mare, who finally listens to him and breaths on his hand. He confides the tragedies of his life and anguish within the mare. The mare is only close to him and understands his pain (Borny 2013).
Anton Chekhov has written this story in more straightforward and narrative style. The story is written in simple language. Chekhov took care of each and every detail, which is evident from the fact how he mentioned about the cold snowy night. He is a cinematographic and photographic realist. He portrays accurately in his story, regarding people’s busy life. He gives a brief idea about human behavior and attitude. The story focuses on ‘misery’ faced by an individual and how his future is dark. The dark and cold nights resembles the darkness of Iona’s future, which is full of insecurities. He has nothing to look forward to as his son left him due to an untimely death, his wife is no more and he left his daughter at his native country. The rhythm of Iona’s life is totally broken and he is grief stricken due to his son’s death. The story objectifies grief, human nature and behavior through the depiction of various details. The prose is more lucid with simplistic language and vocabulary. Chekhov’s usage of metaphorical language helped in establishing the scenes (Clark 2012).
The story helps the readers to imagine the scenes and feel the pain of the protagonist. Chekhov worked with every detailing, while setting up the atmosphere and the story’s central theme. The story is in simple language which revolves around a father’s sorrow over his son’s untimely death. He desperately looks out for someone, in order to share his emotions. Unfortunately, nobody is bothered to listen to him. He is a lonely cab driver, whose job is to drive people to their respective destinations. His thirst to share the grief with others remains unsatisfied. Nobody is willing to listen to a frail cab driver’s story. He was unhappy for not finding a compassionate audience, who would listen to his sorrows. In the end, his mare only supported him and listened to him. The mare listened to his plight sympathetically (Golomb 2014).
To conclude, Chekhov in this story mentions about human behavior and attitude. In this fast pacing world, everybody is running to their respective destinations. They are so busy with their own lives; they are always rushing to their destinations. They don’t have minimum time to listen to others or to console them of their loss. The protagonist in this story, Iona is over burdened with his son’s untimely death. He wishes to talk to someone, share his pain and grief in order to feel better. Unfortunately, he finds no one, in this vast world. The passengers with whom he tried to share his emotions gave cold replies and some even thwacked him for wasting their valuable time. However, after so many failed attempts, his mare became his only companion. Iona expresses his sorrow to the mare, who finally listens to him and breaths on his hand. He confides the tragedies of his life and anguish within the mare. The mare is only close to him and understands his pain. The mare was his only companion that night and she was sympathetic towards Iona. This instance proved that human beings are crueler than animals.
‘A cup of Tea’ is a short story written by Katherine Mansfield, which deals with the subject of insecurity, jealousy, class and materialism. The story is taken from the writer’s ‘The Dove’s Nest’ and other short stories collection. The narration is done by an unnamed third person and after reading the whole story, it is understood that the writer explores about the class differences, which exists in a society. The assessment is about the story’s critical analysis, in the narrative perspective (Ross 2013). Mansfield in her story tells the readers regarding the protagonist, Rosemary’s class, “They were rich, really rich, not just comfortably well off.”
Rosemary Fell, the protagonist of the story, is a young and married woman, who belongs to a wealthy family. She goes to the Curzon Street in order to shop from an antique and florist shop. She admires the shop’s interior decorations but did not buy anything. While leaving for home, she was approached by a poor and impoverished girl, Miss Smith, who was begging for money in order to buy some tea for herself. Instead of giving money to her, Rosemary drives her to the posh house, where the protagonist lived. Rosemary shows the poor girl that, “dreams do come true” and “rich people did have hearts.” Poor Smith drinks tea and eats all the food that was offered to her at the Fell’s plush home (Kimber and Wilson 2013).
After settling down, Smith starts narrating her life’s story to the protagonist, but stops when Rosemary’s husband, named Philip, comes. Philip was not happy with the idea of Miss Smith coming home and conveys his disappointment to Rosemary. After hearing from Philip, Rosemary didn’t listen to him and resists Miss Smith’s dismissal. Philip tried a different tactic and played with Rosemary’s insecurity, by commenting on Miss Smith’s beauty. Being jealous of her husband’s comment, Rosemary asks the girl to leave, by offering her three pound notes (Wilson, Kimber and da Sousa Correa 2013). The story ends with Rosemary’s question to her husband, “Am I pretty?”
Development of the character traits
Katherine Mansfield in her story ‘A cup of Tea’ developed the character traits, by mentioning the class difference that exists in a society. She highlighted the protagonist’s class by telling the readers that Rosemary and Phillip are rich and wealthy enough. She also managed to portray how different Rosemary is from others (Woods 2012). This is proved from the point when the writer says, “If Rosemary wanted to shop, she would go to Paris, as you and I would go to Bond Street.” It is evident from this fact that how Rosemary was different from others and how wealthy were they. The author also mentioned that the protagonist of the story has a car, which mentioned the class difference between Rosemary and the people around her. Having a car at that point of time was considered to be a luxury factor and those who were wealthy enough, could afford a car (Piatti-Farnell 2012).
The story mentioned clearly that mostly upper class people has the resources for buying a car. The writer stated that the time when the story was written, it was very uncommon for the lower class people to engage with the upper class ones. Therefore, this proves that Rosemary was different from others as she spoke to Miss Smith and invited her to her plush home (Ferrall 2014). In addition to this, Rosemary also thinks that it is an “extraordinary” factor of Miss Smith being poor. This also suggests that Rosemary was different from others as she never ever imagined someone, having no money. By mentioning Rosemary as “the rich little girl in her nursery” and Miss Smith as “other”, Mansfield again pointed out the class differences between them (Kimber 2014).
Mansfield also suggested in her story that in the protagonist, Rosemary’s eyes, poor Miss Smith doesn’t belong to her level, that is, she is not equal to her status. This is evident from the fact, when Rosemary kept Miss Smith’s belongings on the floor of her bedroom. This further highlighted their class difference. It is doubtful that Rosemary would have done the same thing, if someone belonging to the upper class visited her home (Da Sousa Correa 2013). Furthermore, the story’s atmosphere suggested that Rosemary did not take Miss Smith to her home for the poor girl’s benefit. Rather, she did so to boast about herself and her kind nature to her upper class friends. This symbolizes Rosemary’s perception about herself and how she thinks different from others (Charuchinda 2016).
Moreover, Mansfield felt that Rosemary “must have” the little antique box, which she sees at the antique store. This highlighted how Rosemary valued materials and how much those are important to her. However, Mansfield also uses a setting, when Rosemary left the antique store and how she felt after not being able to buy that little antique box. The author in her story mentioned the setting of the atmosphere as, “rain was falling, and with the rain it seemed the dark came too, spinning down like ashes. There was a cold bitter taste in the air, and the new-lighted lamps looked sad.” This symbolized the mood of Rosemary after not being able to buy what she wanted (Mei 2013).
Mansfield in her story also characterized the class difference by giving several instances. Rosemary was buying several flowers, “those and those and those. Give me four bunches of those.” The author characterized her class in this segment of the story by stating how “extravagant and different” she is. Instead of purchasing just one bunch, as most middle class people do, she ended up buying several (Kimber 2015). Moreover, when Philip complimented Miss Smith, regarding her beauty, Rosemary’s attitude completely changed. The author mentioned about Rosemary’s character, she was not only jealous after hearing Philip’s remarks, but also insecure regarding her physical appearance. Her insecurity is proven when she asks Philip, “Am I pretty?”, at the end of the story. Therefore, her character is revealed here (Kubasiewicz 2016).
However, Rosemary’s husband, Philip has a different character. He is portrayed as being proud, who does not want to mix up with lower class people, as her wife did. This is evident from the fact when Philip expressed his disappointment to Rosemary, for bringing Miss Smith to their home. He compliments Miss Smith just to make Rosemary jealous. He knew that only this tactic would make Miss Smith leave their house. Philip does not want to mix up or associate himself with lower class people. Later in the story, Mansfield specifies that Rosemary has “done her hair, darkened her eyes a little and put on her pearls.” This suggests the readers how Rosemary tried hard to make herself beautiful in front of her husband Philip (Smith-DiBiasio 2016).
Rosemary’s insecurity proves that even higher class people face problems in their lives. Despite being rich, wealthy and most importantly, living a comfortable life at that period, which majority of the people were unable to afford, Rosemary had issues related to insecurity. The story is written in more modernistic mode, without an appropriate structure and many narrative shifts. The major themes of the story are class consciousness, feminism, jealousy, insecurity and materialism. One of the powerful instances of class difference or class consciousness can be understood when Miss Smith asks Rosemary about the price of the cup of tea (Ross 2013).
Moreover, Rosemary had no idea of lower class people, until and unless she met Miss Smith and came to know how poor she is. This is evident that she sets herself in a boundary where she didn’t bother to notice people who didn’t belong to her class. In one instance, Mansfield also tells how Rosemary kept Miss Smith’s belongings on the floor, which she might have not done if someone of her class visited to her home. Moreover, her husband, Philip didn’t seem to associate himself with the lower class people as he tells Rosemary to make Miss Smith leave their home. Hence, the story portrayed strong difference between class and how people’s mentality can be. Rosemary viewed helping Miss Smith as an “adventure”, which she did in order to boast about to her higher class friends (Kimber and Wilson 2013).
To conclude, the story “A cup of Tea” is fully based on the theme of class differences, set in the backdrop of a modernistic approach. Two classes are being portrayed here; one being the higher class and the other is the lower class. This story gives perfect instances regarding the existing differences in people’s mentality, living in the same society. The protagonist of the story, Rosemary belonged to a higher class society, who encounters a poor girl named, Smith. She takes the poor girl home, in order to give her an experience of Rosemary’s luxurious lifestyle. Rosemary was more concerned with her ability to boast regarding the matter to her higher class friends.
The author mentions in a section of her story that, “Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. But she was young, brilliant, extremely modern, amazingly well read in the newest of new books, and her parties were the most delicious mixture of the really important people.” In addition to this, when Rosemary’s husband compliments Miss Smith, she felt jealous. She tries to make herself pretty by applying make-up and change her personality, in order to grab her husband’s attention. This gives an idea of the protagonist’s character being shallow as well as materialistic.
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