In a Train Car by Anton Chekhov: Summary and Review

the text "in a train car by anton chekhov" written next to the portrait of anton chekhov

Travel is so delightful. You get to know people so quickly and so well. So intimately, when you travel. I just adore travel!

Being a colossal travel freak, I found myself nodding like crazy when I read this, and it is never a dull ride with Chekhov on the side! ( Sorry, bad rhymes! I couldn’t resist.)

Prepare for a short but very delightful journey with Chekhov’s short story called In the Train Car. 

The story, published in March 1880 in The Dragonfly, was considered by his family to have been the first one. It is now available as part of a short story collection called ‘Prank’ published by The New York Review books translated by Maria Bloshteyn.

In a Train Car: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is set on a train journey from fun-crash station to save-yourselves-if-you-can station. See a theme right from the start, don’t you?

Our protagonist, counting his sins in his mind and peering out of the train, feels someone trying to pickpocket him. He confronts the man, and the situation is resolved quickly, no-fuss. 

As soon as the train halts at the next station, passengers cram the restaurant at the station.

The scene inside the train is busy and no less interesting. One man is crying about socks and shoes stolen off of his feet, and the policemen nearby asking him not to create a ruckus instead of finding the thief. 

There are a bunch of fare-beaters on the train – ones that prefer paying the conductor directly rather than buying the Railways ticket. There are couples separated at the station, the separated spouses running back while fellow passengers throw their belongings out – to help them, of course! Only to have the separated spouse come back again looking for their items. Some people are sitting in the wrong train.

One word description that would fit the scene: Pandemonium.

In a Train Car: Review and Quotes

I loved this story, mainly because it was a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The portrayal is so fresh and vivid and, needless to say, so relatable. I was pleasantly surprised to read that there were these so-called farebeaters in Russia too!

It’s a fine thing to be a fare-beater, dear reader! They(passengers) don’t have to line up to buy it, they don’t have to show it, and the conductors are more polite to them to boot! Everything you could possibly wish for!

I have had my fair share of trips through train stations infested with pickpockets, losing my purse on one unfortunate occasion at a busy station. The book brought that memory back to haunt me, albeit much more dramatically than my personal experience.

A stranger in a straw hat and a dark grey shirt runs past. He is clutching a suitcase. Oh my God, it’s mine!

Also I can remember quite vividly how scared I used to feel every time my father would leave to get refreshments at a station, worried that he might be left behind. Through the window, I would peek as far as my vision would let me, scanning for the presence of my father! 

The separation of Pakhom and Petrovna in the story was spot on! It was hilarious that Petrovna’s friend threw all her belongings out the train in the hope that she is able to find it – only to see her return to the carriage and curse the living storm out of her.

You are a witch, a regular witch, Lord forgive me! What do I do now? Why didn’t you throw your own bag out? Or your ugly mug? I hope your guts crawl out of you!

And then you have all sorts of eaters in the train – some that go through the whole journey, without taking anything else much other than air, and there are others, who wont let go of even a moment without chewing something or the other.

Here’s a Chekhovian variety eater.

He struggles to reply, He has got a fossilized sandwich stuck in his throat.

And there is always one completely clueless man or woman who has the wrong ticket for the wrong date and destination. Here is one from the story, who starts bawling the minute the controller tells him that he is going in the wrong direction. The passenger’s response and the controller’s way of consolation add further to the comic element of the setting of this story.

Don’t cry! Ask for help! Look at the size of you, you big blockhead – bawling like a baby! You’re probably married with children,and just look at you!

There is so much to love about this story and more so, if you have ever happened to enjoy a train ride, preferably a sketchy one. Chekhov can find humor anywhere.

I go back to my car, number 224. Everything’s the same : darkness, snoring, stale tobacco and rotgut- this is Russia alright.

Time to book that train ride, eh? 

Better with Chekhov than without.


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