No dumpling, not a word about punishment, this is not our boy’s fault. They are all out to get him.
I don’t mean to brag here, but I can’t thank my stars enough for having a mother who specializes in overlooking all my faults. This excerpt from Chekhov’s story Papa is such a pleasant reminder of that. Thank you, Momma!
That’s where the similarities end, though. My mother never had to go as far as persuading my dad to bribe any of my teachers to help me pass. Luckily I was able to manage to pass my exam without ‘external influence’. ‘Nuff said.
On to the Chekhovian portrayal of a doting mama, a henpecked but adulterous and arm twisting Papa, a troublemaking only child and a confused teacher in a setting of shaky moral standards at best.
The short story ‘Papa’ was first published in June 1880 in an arts and humor weekly called Strekoza (the dragonfly). It is now available in a short story collection called Prank, The best of Young Chekhov.
Papa: Summary and Plot Analysis
The story opens in Papa’s study with a conversation between Papa and Mama about their kid. Their only child, the 15-year old son, seems to have flunked third grade again, and Mama is adamant about Papa persuading the teacher into letting him pass.
After all, there is no way their genius son doesn’t know how to do simple third-grade math.
According to her, their son is only failing because the world is out to get him, as he is so talented and handsome. Although Papa is thoroughly convinced that it is their son’s fault, Mama does not hear any of it.
Papa finally concedes defeat when threatened of an exposE on his affair with the maid and goes to meet their son’s Math teacher. The Math teacher vehemently asserts his inability to change their son’s grade.
Their son, after all, doesn’t deserve to pass, considering he never studies and is the classic troublemaker.
It won’t be ethical on his part to let him pass. Papa is just not hearing any of it. His son is young, and what is youth expected to do if not to make trouble? Despite the teacher’s persistent denial to accommodate his request, Papa doesn’t bend.
If anything, he doubles up his efforts of tiring him into doing his bidding.
Tired and frustrated by the repeated badgering, the teacher finally agrees to let the student pass if all other teachers that had failed him did so.
Seeing the mission accomplished, Papa takes the teacher’s leave after inviting him and his wife over to their house.
Papa: Review, Quotes, and My Thoughts
Every single character in the story was corrupt. Chekhov has beautifully wrapped that corruption in his very unique humorous style. Consider the mama, for example; She knows that her husband has an affair with the maid, but since she was an intelligent wife of a civilized husband and used to Papa’s weakness, she decides to pay no attention to it.
However, this mercy was extended only until the point where she didn’t need him to do his bidding. Bribing a teacher to let her only son pass, seems like a good opportunity for that.
The only son, although, has very little actual part in the story, manages to shine in the little blurb that Chekhov afforded him.
The boy was called for, and an explanation demanded. Junior became angry, frowned and scowled. He said he knew math better than the teacher. And it was not his fault that in this world of ours, only girls, rich kids and suck-ups got good grades. He then burst into tears.
Wow, such a range of emotions!
For me, the show-stealer had to be Papa.
Oh, the persistence and dedication! If you need lessons in wearing someone out, Papa is your guy. Man! The guy could give the best negotiators in the world a run for their money. See for yourself some snippets of his conversation with the teacher.
Papa: You have given my son a heap of Fs. Which is alright,you know. Still it is unpleasant, you know. Do you mean to say that my son really doesn’t understand math?
Teacher: It’s not that he doesn’t understand math , as such, it’s , well, you see, he doesn’t study. So no he doesn’t understand
Teacher: He gets into trouble again and again.
Papa: Well, that’s youth for you, what’s to be done?
Papa: Ones who say they don’t take(bribe)- they take(bribe). And who isn’t on the take nowadays, my friend? It’s impossible not to take my friend. Not used to it yet? Come on!
After all the badgering, you would think that the teacher would hate Papa, but the reaction is quite the opposite.
“A good man! What’s on his mind is on his tongue. Simple and kind, it’s plain to see.. I like his sort!”
Of course, after his exemplary feat, he would be in mama’s good books. Papa is not the one to keep the maid very far, though.
That very evening, Mama was once again sitting on Papa’s lap(the maid’s turn came later). Papa was assuring her that “our son” would go on to the next grade. Educated types, he said, don’t require money- just a pleasant manner and polite but relentless arm twisting.
There was something about the story that made me go searching for some more background information. I was curious about what would have led Chekhov to pen this.
Chekhov is a brilliant writer, he can bring almost anything to life, and I couldn’t imagine him to be a bad student (bias, bias, I know!) There seems to be the heavy influence of his school teacher and his free-spending missus on the characters of Papa and Mama. Interestingly, Chekhov had to repeat Grade 3 Mathematics after failing it once!
If anything, I love him more now.