Analysis of the short story The Man in the Bag by Russian writer Anton Chekhov.

In the treasure of Russian literature, there is the writer Chekhov, with the short story Man in a Bag. The person in the bag tells about a character who is not, or is afraid, to interact with society, named Belikov (Belikov).

The man in the bag, English name: “The Man in the Case”, Russian name: Человек в футляре. Composed while writer Anton Chekhov was convalescing. Writers often suffer from mental illness and then decline in physical health.

Anton Chekov, when portraying the character of Man in a Bag, left many hidden meanings. Reading through, one can see that the name Belikov, a teacher of Greek, lived separately from the world, different from his colleagues, so he died quietly. Read the story carefully, the unknown is that maybe the people around have killed Belikov as well. When her friend Kovarenko pushed Belikov down from the stairs above, he fell, and then he hurt him to death. Maybe everyone had a hand in accidentally killing Belikov. Here, the meaning of the story completely changed.

Cover of the book Man in a Bag published in Russia.

Oh, Greek sounds great, nice to the ears. He said sweetly. And as if to prove his point, he narrowed his eyes, raised a finger, and uttered: – Anthrópos! Belikov is right, in saying that only permanent values ​​should be kept. Human civilization should have stopped at the bicycle, as Belikov liked the classical model, or the gentleman in Confucianism. But no, civilization has advanced too far and humanity is on the verge of destruction. Then, it is not certain that Belikov is wrong, but everyone is wrong. Writer Anton Chekhov, his face full of grief, wearing glasses, is talking about this paradox; through the story has a simple structure but the meaning is too sublime.

Chekhov was the last major representative of classical Russian realist literature (second half of the nineteenth century). He is an innovator in the genre of short stories and plays. Especially in the short story genre, Chekhov excelled at writing stories with aftertaste. Even Nguyen Tuan can misunderstand Chekhov.

Writer Anton Chekhov

The Man in the Bag (1898), a famous short story by Chekhov (pronounced Chekhov), was composed during the writer’s convalescence in the city of Iantam on the Crimean peninsula, on the Black Sea. This Crimean peninsula, according to many documents, belongs to Ukraine, not to Putin’s Russia today. Putin wants Crimea to be independent, then, according to the oil spill policy, Putin will incorporate the peninsula into the Russian Federation. Such is the route. Temporarily setting aside the disputed sovereignty, there was once a great writer Chekhov on the Crimean island, writing the story of Man in a Bag.

In particular, people see glimpses of Anton Chekhov in the image of Man in a Bag. A thin, austere face. Anton Chekhov’s luck was that he had a medical degree. Chekov’s condition, during his convalescence and writing, is identical to that of Belikov’s character. In Vietnam, it is taught to students that Chekhov used the image of Belikov to criticize a part of Russian intellectuals who are cowardly, conservative, weak and selfish. To say that is to not understand Chekhov’s art. Chekhov did not curse Belikov, nor did he curse Russian intellectuals. Chekhov is talking about a collision between the old civilization and the new civilization, of which Belikov is a victim. Writers like Nguyen Tuan also misinterpreted Chekhov, which led to all the literature teachers in Vietnam teaching students the wrong thing.

The author chooses the character Belikov, a teacher of Greek. The author seems to be talking about the clash of two cultures. An old Russian culture (dominated by Eastern Orthodoxy) with a new Western European culture, which Belikov’s young colleagues are enjoying, makes him dizzy, not knowing if he can compete. Even the author Chekhov in the story does not conclude which civilization to choose.

Belikov is also interested in getting married, that is Varenka, the younger sister, and the younger sister is Kovanlenko, the whole group is a teacher in the school. During a Sunday outing, Belikov was shocked to see the Varenka sisters speeding by on their bicycles. That evening, Belikov went to Varenka’s house to advise the two cousins ​​that it was not feminine at all. The two of them quarreled, and Belikov threatened to report the incident to the principal. Kovalenco’s sister grabbed her shirt and pushed her so hard that her brother-in-law missed Belikov and fell down the stairs. (It is possible that the fall caused Belikov’s death.) When Belikov died, everyone was relieved, and before long, life was back to the way it was. But in the quiet night, while drinking coffee by the firelight, they talked about Mr. Belikov. So, whether Belikov is right or wrong, everyone is right or wrong, is an open question. That’s where Belikov’s art of high writing lies. The thoughtful writer leaves a lasting impression in the hearts of readers.

In Russia, there is a statue of Belikov – the main character of the work The Man in the Bag, in the Chekhov Writers Museum:

Statue of Belikov in the Chekhov Writers Museum. Documentary photo.

Sister Varenka laughed happily after Belikov’s fall. But, how long did she enjoy it? Varenka’s smile is identical to the smile of today’s Russian billionaires and tycoons. A life of crisis and stalemate, well disguised by a smile. Only teacher Belikov realized the deadlock, and thus became a man in the bag.

He (Belikov) always “wears sunglasses, a quilted shirt, cotton ears, and when riding in a carriage, always has the hood pulled up”. True Russian intellectuals are now, too, lying dormant. Thus, writer Chekhov’s story The Man in the Bag is predictive of the times, just as Nguyen Du’s story Kieu predicts this era of the Vietnamese nation, an era full of Ma Giam Sinh names:  “You clean beard, neat clothes.” “The top seat is sloppy.” Living in life is too difficult, speaking up is suppressed, not speaking up is inhibited, that’s Chekhov, that’s Belikov’s teacher, and for anyone who thinks often about the reason for living in life.

The setting of the work was in 1898. Doctor Ivan, listening to the story of Belikov, said at the end of the work: “You can’t live like this forever.” Maybe it’s not that Dr. Ivan curses the tsarist regime (the professors of Tonkin literature to dye students red often curse the tsarist regime, actually not). Dr. Ivan is talking about the need for a new cloning that works for everyone. The storyteller, Burkin, from the same school as Belikov, is not asking for change, but Dr. Ivan for change. The doctor here could also be the doctor-writer Chekhov. Greek values, which were eternal values ​​in Europe and Russia at that time, were abandoned, symbolized by the life in the bag and the death of the teacher Belikov. Belikov’s statement is unintentionally true for the second half of the twenty-first century today: “What if something happens?”.

Photo: The conversation between Dr. Ivan and teacher Burkin.

Written in District 7, Saigon, March 1, 2022.

Ton Phi (philosopher Le Minh Ton)

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