Launchpad. Anton Chekhov, “Home”: A Short Story

Background | Sources for the Reading | How to Use This Launchpad | The Excerpts | Optional Writing Activities

In winter we close the windows
and read Chekhov,
nearly weeping for his world.

What luxury, to be so happy
that we can grieve
over imaginary lives.

Lisel Mueller, “Late Hours"  

Background

Portrait of Anton CheckovAnton Chekhov began his career writing humorous pieces for popular magazines to support himself while he studied to become a doctor. He began to take his art more seriously after the respect he gained encouraged him to begin writing fiction. Between 1888 and his death Chekhov revolutionized two narrative forms, the short story and the drama. His writing offers realistic slices of Russian life that reflect universal truths about the human condition. Literary critic Harold Bloom notes, “Chekhov, with his artist’s wisdom, teaches us implicitly that literature is a form of desire and wonder and not a form of the good.”

“Home” was originally published in 1897.

Sources for the Reading

A public domain edition of “Home” (1922) is used in this exercise.

Digital: Anton Chekhov, “Home,” in The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: Macmillan, 1922), 63–78. (Available through the American Libraries Collection, Internet Archive. This version offers a variety of formats for download, including the option of having it read aloud. After you decide on your format, scroll to page 63 within the text for the story.)

Print: Anton Chekhov, Early Short Stories 1883–1888, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: Modern Library, 1999), 352–361. 

How to Use This Launchpad

For the purposes of this exercise, “Home” has been be broken up into five excerpts. The first and last sentence of each excerpt is given below, along with a link to a downloadable PDF containing the whole excerpt in addition to the complete short story.

Within each excerpt section below are also vocabulary words and their definitions, as well as questions relating to that particular section of the text. Be sure to refer back to the excerpted passage/full story to provide evidence for your answers.

You are encouraged to read the entire story before beginning this activity. [Note: British English spellings and editorial variations appear in this translation.]

There are optional summative writing activities at the end of the story to challenge you further.

[Note to the Teacher*]

Excerpt 1.

“Someone came from the Grigoryevs' to fetch a book, but I said you were not at home.” Continues through: “For people who are forced for whole hours, and even days, to think by routine in one direction, such free private thinking affords a kind of comfort, an agreeable solace.”

Vocabulary

expostulate express strong disapproval or disagreement

pernicious —   having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way

caricature a picture of a person in which certain major characteristics are exaggerated to create a comic or grotesque effect

scruple (v.) to hesitate to do something that one thinks may be wrong

solace comfort or consolation offered in a time of distress or sadness

Questions

  • Who is telling the story? What is the setting? How does Chekhov masterfully draw readers into the scene in the first few passages?
  • Who are the characters that are introduced so deftly here? What do you learn about Master Seryozha before you actually meet him in the story?  Chekhov allows the reader to be privy to the thoughts Yevgeny Petrovitch—what does his inner monologue tell you about him?
  • Think about what may have been known or not known about the dangers of smoking in the late 19th century, when Chekhov was writing this story. How does your current knowledge of the health risks and perhaps bias against smoking influence your reading of the story?
  • What does Chekov mean in this statement: “This was probably a law of social life: the less an evil was understood, the more fiercely and coarsely it was attacked.” Do you think it is true today? Give examples from contemporary society.
  • Comment on the message Chekhov is conveying in the lines: “very often the punishment did a great deal more harm than the crime itself.” Consider how this plays out in the story as you continue your reading.

-- Back to Top --

Excerpt 2.

“It was between eight and nine o'clock in the evening.” Continues through: “The prosecutor got up and walked about the study.”

Vocabulary

monotonous — lacking in variety; tedious

reveries— daydreams

Questions

  • How does Chekhov describe Seryozha? What does that tell you about this character?
  • How does Chekhov turn a serious situation into a humorous one?
  • Explain why the approach and language the father uses are not effective in this case. How does Seryozha react? How does Yevgeny Petrovitch react in turn?
  • Explain the importance of this passage:

    Secondly, you smoke. . . . That's very bad. Though I smoke it does not follow that you may. I smoke and know that it is stupid, I blame myself and don't like myself for it. (‘A clever teacher, I am!’ he thought.)”
  • Have you ever been in a situation in which you were trying to explain a serious matter to a young child? Describe the difficulty you had getting through to him/her. How did you finally make your case and get your point across, if you did?
  • Put yourself in Yevgeny Petrovitch’s shoes—make the case to Seryozha not to smoke.
  • Clearly there is a disconnection between what Seryozha is thinking and what his father thinks he is thinking. Why does this classic generation gap set up a powerful conflict?

Excerpt 3.

"Formerly, in my time, these questions were very simply settled," he reflected. Continues through: “If this boy were not my son, but my pupil, or a prisoner on his trial, I should not be so cowardly, and my thoughts would not be racing all over the place!"

Vocabulary

urchin a mischievous and often poorly clothed youngster that annoys others

hurdy-gurdy a stringed musical instrument that makes a humming sound by turning a crank handle

Questions

  • What is the boy thinking about? What does this tell you about him?
  • Consider what Chekhov is saying about gender roles in this passage:

    To gain possession of his attention, it's not enough to imitate his language, one must also be able to think in the way he does. He would understand me perfectly if I really were sorry for the loss of the tobacco, if I felt injured and cried… That's why no one can take the place of a mother in bringing up a child, because she can feel, cry, and laugh together with the child. One can do nothing by logic and morality.”

    The father has lost his wife and he is raising the son as an only parent. Does that fact—Yevgeny Petrovitch acting as the sole parent—have any bearing on the situation? Would this situation play out differently if his wife was in the home? Explain.
  • Explain how the concepts of courage and cowardice operate in this excerpt.
  • Explain how the concepts of honor and love arise in this excerpt.

-- Back to Top --

Excerpt 4.

“Yevgeny Petrovitch sat down to the table and pulled one of Seryozha's drawings to him.” Continues through: “How much courage and self-confidence it needs, when one comes to look into it closely, to undertake to teach, to judge, to write a thick book…"

Vocabulary

thrashing — beating someone or something over and over again

scrupulousbeing conscientious about doing the right thing

Questions

  • Consider this passage:

    The prosecutor felt the child's breathing on his face, he was continually touching his hair with his cheek, and there was a warm soft feeling in his soul, as soft as though not only his hands but his whole soul were lying on the velvet of Seryozha's jacket.”

    How does the author use sensory language to convey deep emotion as well as a tactile experience?
  • In this excerpt, the author sets up a dichotomy between the unique/uncivilized/child perspective and the logical/reasoned/grownup perspective. Which one wins?
  • Do you agree with this line? “How much courage and self-confidence it needs, when one comes to look into it closely, to undertake to teach, to judge, to write a thick book…” Explain why these activities might require courage as well as self-confidence.
  • How would you characterize the father’s parenting— indulgent or authoritarian? Give evidence from the text.

Excerpt 5.

“Yevgeny Petrovitch on his free evenings was in the habit of telling Seryozha stories.” Continues through: “Overhead the scales could no longer be heard, but the inhabitant of the second storey was still pacing from one end of the room to another.”

Vocabulary

rigamarole — a long, rambling story or statement

pensively — thinking in a dreamy or wistful manner

embellishments — details added to a statement or story to make it more interesting or entertaining

jurymenmembers of a jury

Questions

  • Consider this simile and the underlying theme: “Why must morality and truth never be offered in their crude form, but only with embellishments, sweetened and gilded like pills?” What is Chekhov teaching us in this story?
  • Go back over the story and examine Chekhov’s use of figurative language. Select one additional simile and one metaphor and describe their meaning and explain how Chekhov uses them.
  • In this domestic situation filling the role of father, Yevgeny Petrovitch, even though he is an educated lawyer, finds himself in the same predicament as the public jurymen he addresses during a trial. Use evidence from the text in your answer.
  • What forms of literature has Yevgeny Petrovitch used to reach an understanding of life? What does that lead you to believe about him?
  • What is the mood of the story? Give examples from the text to support your answer.
  • Why does Chekhov choose to end his story with the unnamed pacer in the apartment overhead?  Go back over the story and discuss how Chekhov uses sound to move the action along.
  • Why does the author entitle the work, “Home?” Is this an apt title?  Why? What constitutes a home? If you could have given it a different title, what would that be?

-- Back to Top --

Optional Writing Activities

(A) Expository writing activity. Insights into Chekhov’s story structure

Read the following statement by Eudora Welty from The Eye of the Story about Chekhov’s short story construction. Then write an essay using your understanding of “Home” to answer the questions below. Be sure to give evidence from the text in your answers.

The revolution brought about by the gentle Chekhov to the short story was in every sense not destructive but constructive. By removing the formal plot he did not leave the story structureless, he endowed it with another kind of structure—one which embodied the principle of growth. And it was one that had no cause to repeat itself; in each and every story, short or long, it was a structure open to human meaning and answerable to that meaning. It took form from within.

  • Explain how the story “Home” deviates from the traditional structure of a short story. (i.e., explain how Chekhov departs from traditional plot elements—exposition; rising action; climax; falling action and denouement.) What does Chekhov put in their place?
  • Explain how the alternative structure of Chekhov’s “Home” embodies “the principle of growth” that Welty sees in his stories.
  • What is the effect does this alternative kind of story structure have on the reader? Is Chekhov successful? Why or why not?
  • Compare Chekhov’s alternative structured approach here in “Home” to the structure of other short stories he wrote such as “The Lady with the Little Dog” or his own personal favorite, “The Student.”
  • Compare Chekhov’s alternative structured approach in “Home” to the structures used by other short story writers you have studied (i.e., Hemingway, Faulkner.)

(B) Creative writing activity. Narrative viewpoints

The narrative point of view of Chekhov’s short story “Home” is the third person perspective. Choose from two optional perspectives and rewrite Chekhov’s story, “Home” from a different point of view. You also have the option of changing the gender of the single parent character to tell the story from a single mother’s perspective.

Note: For a brief refresher on the different types of narrative point of view see Fiction Writing Basics (scroll down to the section entitled “Point of View”) available from Purdue Online Writing Lab.

  • Option 1: Write this story using the second person perspective.  A sample beginning to your story could be: “You, the prosecutor of the circuit court, just back from a session, enter your study, take off your gloves, look at the governess, and laugh.”
  • Option 2: Write this story using the first person perspective. A sample beginning to your story could be: “I enter my study back from a long day at the circuit court, take off my gloves, and laugh as the governess makes her daily report.”

*Note to the Teacher

This exercise aligns with Common Core State Standard English Language Arts exemplar text for grades 11–CCR. (Appendix B.) Alignments to Common Core State Standards for Reading Literature and Writing for grades 11–CCR can be found at the end of the optional writing activities.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Each follow-up writing activity aligns with one of these CCSS individual grade ELA standards for Writing:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

-- Back to Top --