Temperaments by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

the words "temperaments by anton chekhov" written next to the portrait of anton chekhov

Scamps, Ramp Scallions and ne’er-do-wells are all of sanguine temperament. It is not recommended to sleep in the same room with anyone who is a sanguine: He’ll tell you jokes all night, and if he does not know any jokes, he will criticize his relatives or else tell lies. He will die of a disease of the digestive system and premature burnout.

It sounds like a section from your newspaper’s Astrology section, which has a zodiac feel to it, doesn’t it?. Prepare to be surprised by Chekhov’s humorous take on human temperaments in his short story The Temperaments. First published in September 1881 in the Journal The Spectator, it is now available as part of a short story collection called ‘Prank’ published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

Temperaments: Quotes from the story

Chekhov has divided human temperaments into four major categories – Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, and Melancholic – further bifurcated into male and female varieties. The result is a hilarious account of all sorts of personalities.

Here are a few excerpts from his classifications-

Sanguine male, for example, is constant in his inconstancy. He is rude to teachers, doesn’t get haircuts, doesn’t shave, wears glasses, and scribbles on walls. He gets married by accident.

Sanguine females are the most bearable of the women, at least when not stupid.

Choleric Male is bilious with a yellow-gray face. The nose is crooked, and the eyes go around in the sockets like hungry wolves in their narrow cage. He is easily annoyed. If the howling of a cat disturbs him, he orders a servant to climb on the roof and strangle the creature, come hell or high water. He will die of consumption or of liver disease.

A Choleric female is a devil in a skirt.

Phlegmatic males think that it’s a pity that children aren’t beaten at school and don’t mind administering a good beating themselves. Only when selected for jury duty, does he fall sick.

Phlegmatic female looks like a sack of flour and is born to become a mother-in-law. That’s her life’s ambition.

A Male melancholic is ever ready to shed a tear. He is prone to hypochondria. Long ago, he decided that the doctors didn’t understand him. He suspects every dog of having rabies. He groans and moans day and night; that’s why sharing a room with him is not recommended.

A Melancholic female is an impossible restless creature.

Temperaments: Review and My Thoughts

Now you might have a go at the story (and I highly recommend that you do), and think it is a load of baloney. 

You would be right, most of it is, but you would probably be surprised to know that there is a proto-psychological theory of Four Temperaments, which is what seems to be an inspiration for this little nugget. 

Funnily enough, to cast a funny shadow on it, Chekhov even called his story The Temperaments (based on the latest scientific findings). A clever writer that he is, he used plenty of other elements to keep the account interesting. 

For example, his account of male personalities is considerably longer than the female ones. Now, why would that be?

Female humans are an enigma; why even pretend to understand, eh? 

Full confession: in my teen years (it seems like it was centuries ago now!), I had my fair share of obsessing over the Horoscope section. 

After all, how could I face the brave new world without knowing what my lucky numbers or lucky colors were? Won’t it be a great skill to know that Leos are to be feared for their anger and Cancerians are to be confided in? 

Thankfully, I grew out of my fixation with it, but I do catch myself casting sideways glances on the horoscope section now and then. This story just drilled it further in my being- the ridiculousness of it all. 

Humans tend to generalize things to aid speedy learning, but generalizing to ridiculous proportions does just the opposite.

Our very unique temperaments are a testimony to that.

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