Why do you want to get everyone married? What business is it of yours? Let them get married as they like.
This might sound familiar from a sitcom, or a movie, or a drama.
This excerpt from Chekhov’s short story ‘The Cook Gets Married’, a.k.a ‘The Cook’s Wedding’, is a hilarious take on marriages in general and arranged marriages in particular in the 19th century Russia.
The story is one of his earlier works, published way back in 1885. 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.
The Cook Gets Married: Summary and Plot Analysis
The story, presented from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy, Grisha, opens in the house kitchen where the nanny Aksinya is entertaining a peasant named Danilo in what seems to be an attempt to set up a match between him and one of the housemaids named Pelageya. Pelagia doesn’t seem too keen on the match, while Danilo, Akisinya, and Grisha’s mom do.
The nanny makes general inquiries about Danilo’s livelihood and financial situation; Danilo answers the questions while also indicating that he would love to marry if Pelageya was willing. Pelageya seems anything but.
Grisha is soon made to leave the room and study, but he can’t bring himself to do so. His thoughts drift to the futility of setting up a match for poor Pelageya.
Danilo was too uncivil, uncouth for her, and unlike his father and his Pavel Andrich, who were rich people, their poverty didn’t jive with what was a marital requirement in Grisha’s mind.
Mom tries to put in a good word about Danilo in Pelageya’s head. After all, he was a good man that didn’t drink. She is soon joined by the nanny, who repeats the same message, and that it would suit her to marry him.
Grisha witnesses all the persuasion going around, the increasing visits from neighborhood cooks and maids that got a whiff of the match. He later dreams about Pegaleya’s abduction.
A wedding follows, leaving Grisha further confused. Why should Pelageya marry this poor man? Why are his parents not saving her?
As if that was not enough, Danilo comes up one day and asks for Pelageya’s salary advance.
Grisha’s heart goes out to her, and as a gesture of kindness and consolation, he picks up the biggest apple from the kitchen, hands it over to Pelageya, and runs out.
The Cook Gets Married: Review and My Thoughts
I loved the story. It was heartwarming, mainly because it brings an innocent perspective on such a cliche topic. ‘Well meaning’ relatives and friends are eager to marry people off, and there is no novelty in that.
However, the exciting thing was a child’s perspective, and it shone a refreshing light on the whole affair. The boy didn’t know much about the social construct or the requirements; he was processing what he saw in real-time. That’s the very reason my favorite character was the Chubby little Grisha.
He is no ordinary seven-year-old boy, mind you; he is empathetic, sometimes wise beyond his years, and sometimes just the cute little boy that he is.
He can spot the oddity in the cabby’s manners right from the start. The boy, coming from a refined family, finds it strange that a man could behave like this.
Poor boy! It’s adorable. At the end of the day, he is still a child.
He was holding the saucer in five fingers of his right hand and drinking tea from it, biting it so noisily that it sent Shivers down Grisha’s spine.
He is also very quick to spot the difference in Pegaleya’s behavior; it’s just not characteristic of her behaving that way. This puzzles Grisha.
Never once did she glance at the table where they were drinking tea, and to the questions the nanny put to her, she replied curtly, sternly, without turning her face.
Over dinner as Pegaleya served the food, the diners all looked her in the face and teased her about the cabby. She blushed terribly and giggled unnaturally.
Being young as he is, the boy doesn’t have an awful lot of understanding of the adult world. In his mind, Pelagaya’s off behavior pointed to shame. It must be shameful to get married, terribly shameful.
He doesn’t have a very high opinion of the caddy. After the events of the day transpire, and he retires to sleep, he still thinks of Pelagaya, although in his dreams, he sees her being abducted by the witch.
Look at the extent to which he feels for the Pelageya.
Falling asleep after that, Grisha dreamed that Pegaleya was being abducted by a Chernomor and a witch.
He is surprised that his mom and dad aren’t standing up to protect Pelageya, conjuring up all sorts of mistreatment that the cabby would be doling out on her.
Poor thing, Poor thing! Where are they taking her? Why don’t Papa and Mama stand up for her?
Poor thing, now she is crying somewhere in the dark, and the cabby tells her: Shut up, shut up!
It’s curious to him that suddenly, Pelageya, free as a bird’ has been put in a cage, one where her every move is monitored, and Cabby has the first claim on her property. This is disconcerting to him; he feels for the victim deeply and does what innocent kids do best.
Such a lovely and sweet gesture. Perfectly aww-worthy.
He wanted passionately, to the point of tears, to be nice to his victim, as he thought, of people’s abuse. Choosing the biggest apple in the pantry, he snuck into the kitchen, put it in Pelagaya’s hand, and rushed back out again.
I couldn’t get over it; the little boy is an absolute delight, downright adorable! If only every child were like Chekhov’s Grisha, the world would be such a better place. The nanny, the mom, the other cooks, the cabby, everyone can learn from him. I did too.
William Wordsworth once said, ‘A child is the father of man.’ Children like Grisha make the world a better place, one little kindness at a time.