Joy by Anton Chekhov: Summary, Analysis and Review

the text "joy by anton chekhov" written next to the portrait of anton chekhov

If I say imagine ‘trading room’, what images come to mind?

Every time someone says the words, if you ask me, a very consistent set of images appear before my eyes. Phones ringing everywhere, some papers stacked at desks and some flying around, everyone stressed, clocks displaying times from all major time zones, someone going berserk at the dealer on the phone, etc. 

It’s scary how consistently the same themes appear in those images, regardless of the setting I imagine them in.

Now, let’s change the words. Let’s just say ‘Joy’; what images come to mind now?

Depending on your age, it might be your favorite ice cream, your favorite dress, your favorite person, your favorite travel destination, your favorite cake, or maybe even your favorite pillow. 

I have had all of those images appearing in my mind at some point or the other on my at-work daydreaming sprees. 

But the fascinating thing about joy was that the images were not as consistent as those that appeared when I imagined a trading room or even a grocery store. 

Joy is something abstract, and sometimes I go nuts imagining philosophers of ‘yore poring over huge fat books trying to develop an all-encompassing definition of Joy. 

I know my limits, and I feel that I would never define joy or even agree with someone’s definition of it. It’s too abstract for all that. Or so I thought.

And came along Chekhov and his short story aptly called Joy. The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1883. It is also available as part of a short story collection called Fifty Two Stories published by Alfred A. Knopf, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Joy: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens with a boy Mitya Kuldarov running to his parent’s apartment; his schoolboy brothers are asleep while his sister is busy reading a novel. He has a newspaper in his hand, feeling giddy with joy, unable to even calm down and share the news with his family. 

As the family pokes some more, he eventually calms down to share the reason behind that exhilaration but not before a slight rebuke.

You live like wild animals, don’t read the newspapers, don’t pay any attention to publicity, yet there are so many amazing things in the newspapers!

It turns out that the local paper ran a story about Mitya, one wherein a state of complete intoxication, he was trampled on over by a horse, knocked unconscious, and then given first aid at the hospital. Mitya is utterly insane with joy.

“Oh, lord! Newspapers only write about famous people, and now they have written about me!.. It will spread all over Russia!”

As soon as Mitya tells his father that his name appeared in the papers, he goes pale, as if nothing good would ever come out of a poor man’s name in the papers- especially one of his son’s caliber.

After his father is done reading, he takes the newspaper back and takes his leave, very excited to share with the rest of the community. There is a smile on his face and a zing in his steps.

Joy: Review and My Thoughts

This Mitya is going crazy with happiness, at least gauging from his behavior throughout the story. At one point, it just stopped making sense to me. Who, in their right mind, would go about broadcasting such a mishap? I know for a fact that if something like that comes in papers about me, I will change my name and my identity and live in some obscure corner of the world. 

So, maybe he wasn’t in the right mind? Perhaps he was drunk? It makes sense to me that he might be. But then that leaves lots of questions in my head, ones I seem to be desperately seeking answers to. Maybe in a state of sobriety, he won’t feel as happy? Or would he? 

I couldn’t help trying to dissect the reason behind the sheer joy.

Now, acknowledging that the story is set in an age almost 150 years ago, I don’t understand much. 

So, I will do the next best thing – compare with the current times. 

News spreads much faster today. All Mitya would need to do is share a social media post, and everyone gets to know at once. 

Not just Russia, the whole world gets to know, and that too, in a matter of seconds. So this pace of communication, does it increase or decrease Mitya’s joy? 

Say Mitya is drunk, and as soon as he gains sobriety, he sees a viral feed circulating on Youtube about his drunken adventure, a kick by the horse, and emergency room care. Does this increase or decrease his depression?

Where exactly is this joy?

Is that in Mitya’s mind? Or is that in sharing experiences with the ones he is close to? 

Is it in his devil-may-care attitude? Is it a combination of all? 

Or is it none of these?

You see, Chekhov’s Mitya is not the only one known for drunken rants. 

If you are not ‘drunk with joy’ yourself, then you probably know who I am talking about.

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