Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Analysis

the words "chase two rabbits catch none" written next to the portrait of anton chekhov

No, this is not a treatise on efficient goal-setting. Or is it?

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None is a short story by Anton Chekhov that was first published in May 1880 in a magazine called Dragonfly. It is available as part of a short story collection published by New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None: Summary and Plot Analysis

Major Shchelkobokov is a proud owner of thousands of acres of land and a young wife Karolina. He overhears his wife’s more-than-friendly conversation with her cousin and comes to know that his wife has no love or respect for him. 

Not only that, she considers him a mentally deranged, chronically drunk man who is no better than a peasant. 

Naturally, the major is offended, and this newfound discovery keeps him up at night while he is frantic about finding ways to seek vengeance.

He happens to have a conversation with his valet Panteley. He seems to be looking for information on whether beating someone’s wife was the right thing to do or if only people of the peasant class engaged in such behavior. 

Panteley happily answers the question, adding that he regularly beats his own wife and that this practice had nothing to do with class. 

A former Judge, where Panteley was employed earlier, used to clobber his missus and pound him too for good measure.

He is convinced that this was the right thing to do. Choosing that as his plan to avenge his pride that had been hurt by his wife’s insult, he proposes a boat ride to his wife. The wife agrees, unaware of the husband’s intention. 

As they get to the middle of the lake, the Major, seething with anger, takes the whip out to lash at her. Contrary to what he expects, though, the wife catches the whip and starts using that on her husband. 

Being bald and unable to shield his head, he loses balance and the boat topples over.

A man called Ivan, the Major’s former housekeeper, watching that incident unfold from far off, jumps into the river to save them. He soon realizes that it won’t be possible for him to save them both. Both Major and his wife try to persuade him to save one and leave the other to die. 

Major offers to marry Ivan’s sister as a return to his favor of saving his life, while Major’s wife promises to marry Ivan, if he saves her instead. 

Ivan, unable to choose from the two equally attractive offers, makes up his mind to save them both and reap the rewards.

As soon as they get to the shore, the husband and wife resume their beating of each other, while the peasant girls crowd around them to watch. 

Ivan later comes to know that he has been fired from his current job after the major pulled some strings while Ivan’s sister has been banished from Karolina’s apartment. 

Ivan’s dreams of having Karolina as a wife and the major for his brother-in-law are shattered. Exasperated, he cries on the ghastly return gift for his kind deeds.

“Oh, humankind”, Ivan Pavlovich kept repeating, as he strolled along the shore of the fateful lake, “Is this what you call gratitude?”

Chase Two Rabbits, Catch None: Review and My Thoughts

The story is hilarious. The Major is seething with anger on overhearing the conversation but seeks validation from his valet. His valet seems to him a good candidate, as he represents the peasant class. The conversation is sure to tickle your funny bones.

Answer me straight, and don’t stammer! Do you beat your wife?

Every single Tuesday, Sir.

Very good. Why are you laughing? This is no joking matter.

On being asked if this was something only peasants did to their wives, Panteley happily provides him an account of the same treatment doled out to a judge’s wife.

He’d clobber his missus. He’d pound me too. Just for good measure.

Just beat them, sir! There’s no two ways around it. Take my wife, for example. There’s nothing to do except beat her.

The one below was an absolute show-stealer for me. What’s a climax without a twist?

The major’s wife snatched the whip out of his hand and was just beginning to apply it. The major was just reminded of the fact that he had no hair to cushion this scalp. And then the boat overturned.

I don’t know why, but just reading the title of the story somehow magically takes me to a mental image where I am jotting down my new year goals furiously.

Someone in their right mind would learn from their mistake. Not me. I have managed to repeat the same mistakes every new year’s eve for the last twenty years. I loved seeing the characters in the story make the same mistake as me, although to a much-diluted degree.

Misery loves company, doesn’t it?

Being a doctor and a writer, Chekhov might have got something to do with his choice of such a topic to write on. This story is one of his early creations when he was training to be a doctor AND writing at the same time.

He is known to have been a very compassionate medic and considered giving up the practice a great loss. The world knows and acknowledges his writing prowess. He is one of the most popular and prolific Russian writers ever.

Contrary to Ivan’s experience in the story, Chekhov chased AND caught both the rabbits.

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