Gorky made this comment about Chekhov, “it seems to me that in the presence of Anton Pavlovich, everyone felt an unconscious desire to be simpler more truthful and more himself.” Perhaps Chekhov’s A Student is a story that can humble our existence and make us subtle enough to carried away by a gust of wind. The story is simple and devoid of big incidents but it has a charm that may last ever.
A young student in theology has returned to his village for Easter: on Good Friday, having spent the afternoon hunting in the woods, he walks back home at dusk. The weather is still bitterly cold and he stops and warms himself by a bonfire which a widow and her grown-up daughter have lit in their courtyard. Standing by the fire and chatting with the two women, he is suddenly reminded of the Passion Gospel which was read in church the day before, and he retells it to them: on the night Jesus was arrested, Peter had also stood by such a fire in the courtyard of the High Priest’s palace. As he was warming himself among the guards and servants, they started asking him questions: he took fright and denied three times having ever had any acquaintance with Jesus. At that moment, a cock crowed, and realising what he had done, “he went out and wept bitterly.”
As the student takes leave of the women, he is surprised to see that the widow is quietly sobbing and her daughter looks distressed, “as if holding back a terrible pain.” Walking into the incoming darkness, he ponders the women’s emotion:
“Their weeping meant that all that happened to Peter on that terrible night had a particular meaning for them . . . Obviously what he had just told them about happenings nineteen centuries ago had a meaning for the present, for “for both women and also probably for this God-forsaken village, for himself, for all people. It had not been his gift for poignant narrative that had made the women weep. It was because Peter was near to them.”
“Joy suddenly stirred within him . . . Crossing the river by ferry, and then climbing the hill, he looked at his home village and the narrow strip of cold crimson sunset shining in the west. And he brooded on truth and beauty—how they had guided human life there in the garden, and in the High Priest’s palace, how they had continued without a break till the present day . . . A sensation of youth, health, strength—he was only twenty-two years old—together with an anticipation, ineffably sweet, of happiness, strange, mysterious happiness gradually came over him. And life seemed enchanting, miraculous, imbued with exalted significance.
Chekhov wrote some 250 short stories; among all of them, he singled out “The Student” as his favourite.
This is the story one can read as he ages to death and he knows that life never ends but is recounted in varied ways to come equal to an incident that happened somewhere else. That small incident is beyond everything because it is where life saw its own magnitude and beauty. Perhaps that incident might have been the most sorrowful, still it is instilled to generations its braveness and beauty. There are also occasions when we imitate or remember this incident without any ardour then it is a pale and sorry imitation where that incident is lowered to the level of reverberation and everything looks pitiful.
These are the feelings that swept over me when I saw the newly unveiled statue of Jesus in front of a church.
Our effort to make an incident real ends up in disfiguring it, if it is done by minor artists. Caravaggio mixed shadows and lights so masterly in his ‘supper at Emmaus’ to bring all the emotions of the incident. The resurrected Jesus doesn’t look triumphant but he looks very ordinary man whose face betrays the pains of a violent death. It’s not piety that picture demand from us but release to a truth. our hearts surges up to meet a lofty feeling of pathos and we become sure that everything that is crushed under the feet of the power of the world will rise up on the third day.
The particular figure’s aim is to arouse a sentimental devotion which is very much calculative. It is not these cheap sentimentalities that take us to the way to calvary but truth and beauty that may make us weep and smile at the same time. The figure of Jesus is oozing with blood and his standing on a podium from which blood overflows. Still, Jesus looks devoid of all the agonies and suffering. He is as if ready to come to the rescue of everyone who pleads to him. What this figure evokes in the believer is not a truth but one’s own masochism and need for a protection even from a crushed and crucified man. Crucified Jesus is not our protector but one who must be protected from us.he is not the one to whom we need to pray but for whom we should pray so that the world may stop persecuting him.
Sometimes nothing is dangerous and inhuman as piety and devotion. It blinds our senses and will make us seek pleasure in blood sacrifices. It may force us to kill others. It can also disfigure a truth and turn to our own advantage. Religion makes use of the piety of the people with various false depictions and lies. Thus it begets idolatry, one of the worst crime against God.