Closer Readings Commentary

Entering Chekhov’s “Home”: A Short Story Exemplar

Chekhov’s stories contain just about every nuance and turn of the modern human heart and soul, offering countless hours of splendid short fiction.—Alan Cheuse

The impact of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) on Western literature cannot be underestimated. A physician who began his literary career writing humorous pieces for popular magazines to support his medical education, Chekhov’s subsequent innovations influenced major short story writers and dramatists such as James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, Sherwood Anderson, Raymond Carver, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller.

Between 1888 and his death, Chekhov would revolutionize two narrative forms—the short story and the drama. Literary critic Charles May comments on Chekov’s masterful ability to use “an ambiguous mixture of both external details and psychic projection” in his development of the atmosphere within his stories and plays.

Chekhov’s short story “Home” (1897) appears on the list of Common Core State Standard English Language Arts exemplar texts for grades 11–College and Career Readiness (Appendix B).

Set in a Russian household at the end of the nineteenth century, “Home” offers us a glimpse into the psyches of a father and child and stands as an exquisite example of the author’s mastery of everyday situations to illustrate universal truths about the human condition. It exemplifies the level of complexity, quality, and range that the Standards require all students in this grade band to engage with.

Close Reading                                            

EDSITEment’s student interactive Anton Chekhov, “Home”: A Short Story Exemplar for the Common Core provides five excerpts from the original text. It offers English Language Arts students a guide through an independent close reading of the story with vocabulary definitions and reflection questions included for each passage. It also provides an opportunity for students to work independently to analyze Chekhov’s choices for structuring this story and to critique how they contribute to its overall narrative arc.

After unlocking the central themes in the text, the students can try their hand at the summative assessment options with several expository and creative writing activities that directly align with CCSS Writing Standards.

Here is a sampling of several of these activities:

  • Discuss how Chekhov masterfully draw readers into the scene in the first few passages. What do you learn about the characters that are introduced so deftly here?  By allowing the reader to be privy to the thoughts of the main character, what does his inner monologue tell you about him?

[Aligns with 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).]

  • Discuss how the author uses sensory language to convey deep emotion as well as a tactile experience;

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?

[Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4Determine 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.]

  • Write an expository essay using your understanding how the alternative structure of Chekhov’s “Home” embodies “the principle of growth” that writer Eudora Welty sees in his stories, while deviating from the traditional short story structure.

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

  • Re-write the story using a different narrative viewpoint—the first or second person.

[Aligns with 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.] 

Basic Resources

Students may access the complete short story, “Home,” through the following digital or print resources:

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.