The Post by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

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Have you ever been in a one-sided conversation with someone?

You might have been the enthusiastic participant or the disinterested one. I apologize in advance if it brought back memories of such a misfortune striking you on a date night!

Let me grab my scattered thoughts and try to paint a better picture for you.

Oh wait, why should I even try? Chekhov does it in an infinitely better style with The Post. Published way back in the late 1880s, this short story is one of my favorites.

“I can fancy what adventures you must have had in eleven years! I expect it must be terrible driving? Asks  the student

How fond are you of talking, upon my word! Can’t you keep quiet when you are travelling? Asks the postman”

If I had to summarize the whole story in just a dialogue, I would choose the above excerpt, but why say Yes to a penny when you can have a pound?

The Post: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story begins in the early morning hours at a Post office in a Russian town. The Postmaster asks the postman Ignatyev to take the post and with it, his nephew who is a student.

Taking a person with the mail cart is not allowed but the postmaster does that to avoid paying for a carriage for his nephew’s commute. The postman takes him on, in what appears to be a half-hearted manner. The student is too excited to notice the postman’s reservations.

Now the student, trying to be affable to the postman, attempts to strike a conversation with him, to which he doesn’t receive any response.

Further attempts meet the same fate. The student soon gets distracted by the ruckus created by one of the horses pulling the carriage in a completely dark forest route.

The student gets bashed against the cart repeatedly, sometimes hanging on to the postman or to the driver’s belt. It all culminates into a mail bag as well as the postman thrown off it.

The situation finally calms down.

The student has had a few bruises but hasn’t lost his sense of adventure yet and still feels excited about his journey ahead. In a spirit to share the same sense of adventure, the student tries to strike the conversation again.

This time however, he does get a response, albeit the one asking him to be silent.

The student, taken aback, concedes to the postman’s demand and decides to stay silent for the rest of the journey. He is later surprised when the postman starts complaining about having to bring the student along in the mail cart against his wishes.

The student, puzzled, asks the postman the reason for not expressing his reservations before, to which he is greeted with silence again.

The Post: Review and My Thoughts

I read the story twice, and needless to say, I loved it!

The story is short but is packed with moments that would make you laugh , ruminate over motivations behind human behavior all the time marvelling at the writer’s excellent penmanship.

Some quotes from The Post

Chekhov can even bring the cart and the bells to life. Excellent personification! Check this out : 

The cart squeaked, moved. The big bell lamented, the little bells laughed.

Wheels and hoofs knocked against huge roots and the mail cart swayed from side to side as though it were drunk.

The cart suddenly bounded as though in the throes of a convulsion, began trembling, and, with a creak, lurched heavily first to the right and then to the left, and at a fearful pace dashed along the forest track.

My visualization skills are mediocre at best, but I had so much fun imagining a drunk cart zig-zagging !

The comic setting is hard to ignore as well, Consider these for example:

Prickly pine branches were continually hitting the student on his cap and a spider’s web settled on his face.

The student, violently shaken, bent forward and tried to find something to catch hold of so as to keep his balance and save himself from being thrown out, but the leather bags were slippery, and the driver, whose belt the student tried to catch at, was himself tossed up and down and seemed every moment on the point of flying out.

The student fell and bruised his forehead against the driver’s seat, but was at once tossed back again and knocked his spine violently against the back of the cart.

The student definitely would have been in a bad shape after such an ordeal, but I, selfishly, laughed to my heart’s content. Trying to keep from falling off a cart by holding someone’s belt, for god’s sake!

There was also a scene in the story where the postman goes looking for the sword and the mailbag that gets thrown off the cart. Sword ! Really? What fun days carrying the post!

It won’t be a Chekhovian tale, if it does not make you think. This one’s no exception. Consider this conversation for example:

I can fancy what adventures you must have had in eleven years! I expect it must be terrible driving?

How fond are you of talking, upon my word! Can’t you keep quiet when you are travelling?

The student, although having just had a harrowing experience in the forest, is still thrilled by the anticipation of adventure and strikes a conversation. He is excited at the prospect of hearing stories from the postman.

However, as soon as he is snubbed by him, he seems to embrace a certain melancholy attitude himself. Does a little part of the student become the postman? That being the case, how long before he fully becomes him? Is monotony of daily adult life ,a catalyst in this transition?

The chill of the morning and the surliness of the postman gradually infected the student. He looked apathetically at the country around him, waited for the warmth of the sun, and thought of nothing but how dreadful and horrible it must be for the poor grass and trees to endure the cold nights.

It’s not long after that the postman makes his disappointment known openly. 

It’s against the regulation to take anyone with the post. I do not wish it( to take anyone with the post)

Why didn’t you say so before, if you don’t like it?

The postman made no answer but still had an unfriendly, angry expression.

The clueless student is left wondering-

With whom was he angry? Was it with people, with poverty? With the autumn nights?

Now, I will be honest. I did judge the postman in my first read of the story. How mean! All the poor boy was trying to do was to strike a polite conversation. The postman chose to either shrink deeper into his coat or decided to completely ignore him.

He even reminded me of one of my colleagues back when I was fresh out of college and had just started working.

Of course, I felt bad for the boy because, well, he reminded me of me.

What all these years in the company of good patient friends has taught me, is that you have to give the villain a chance. So a chance is what I gave to the postman and read the story a second time, keeping the postman’s perspective in mind.

I could still not agree with his behavior towards the boy but I did end up having a better appreciation for why he did what he did.

With whom was he angry? Was it with people, with poverty? With the autumn nights?

As to finding the answer to this question, well, I have had no luck but I have strong suspicion that the search for it  is going to lead me in front of a mirror with a head full of grey hair.

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