Lit. NotesShort Story

Summary of The Man Who Lived in Shell by Anton Chekhov

When the story starts, we find two men who have stayed at a shed to spend the night. One of them is Ivan Ivanich who is a veterinary surgeon and the second one is a high school teacher, Burkin. They do not sleep and start telling stories in order to while away the time. Burkin tells the story of Belikov one of his colleagues at school.

Belikov was a teacher of the Greek language at school. Belikov, even in the best weather, was famous for never stirring out of his house without an umbrella, galoshes, and a wadded coat. He kept his smaller belongings like a watch and pen-pencil in a case. Even his face seemed to have a case of its own because it was always hidden in a turned-up coat collar. Belikov seemed to create a covering for himself to isolate and protect him against external influence. He got irritated with the present and always praised the past. “Reality irritated and alarmed him and kept him in constant terror, and, perhaps to justify his timidity, the disgust which the present aroused in him, he always praised the past and the things which had never any existence.”

He liked and comprehended only those circulars and newspaper articles that prohibited something or the other. He was very much skeptical about most of the matters. He seldom saw anything good coming out of anything else. He was even in habit of keeping his thoughts in a case. He used to go to his friends’—who were actually his colleagues- homes regularly. He sat there silently never uttering a single word and would get up and leave. He called this habit of his ‘keeping on friendly terms with one’s colleagues.

Burkin further tells that Belikov had kept the school under his thumb for the last fifteen years even the headmaster was not an exception. Everyone in the village was also afraid of him. The ladies of the village had given up their Saturday private theatricals for fear of his finding of them. The inhabitants of the village were “afraid to speak loudly, write letters, make friends, read books, help the poor, teach the illiterate.” So much so the clergy were afraid of eating meat and playing cards in his presence.

Burkin and Belikov lived in the same home. Their rooms were in front of each other. Belikov’s room was just like a box. He never kept a female servant for fear of people getting “notorious”. He had employed a male cook whose name was Afanasay. Afanasay was an old man of sixty, drunken and crazy. His box-like room was hot and stuffy. He always drew the bedclothes over his head before going to sleep. He did so because he was afraid that some evil would come, that Afanasay would murder him and that thieves would break-in. His dreams were always haunted by these fears.

As it happened there came a new teacher of history and geography at school. His name was Mikhail Savvich. He was a Ukrainian. Savvich brought his sister Varya with him. Varya was a young, tall, and dark-complexioned girl. She had a deep and booming voice. With the arrival of Varya everyone around started suggesting that Belikov should marry now. People suggested Belikov marry Varya. With the passage of time, he also started thinking about Varya.

One day someone drew a caricature of Belikov in his galoshes with his umbrella open over his head and Varya walking arm-in-arm with him. The caricature was captioned as “The Anthropos in Love”. Belikov felt the caricature a lot and it had the most depressing effect on him. One day he said to Burkin, “What cruel, people, malicious people there are in the world.” As both Burkin and Belikov were walking, they saw Varya riding a bicycle. She was following her brother who was also riding the bicycle. Belikov was astonished and dumb. He said,” What can be the meaning of this? Or do my eyes deceive me? Is it proper for school teachers and women to ride bicycles?”

The next day Belikov went Kovalenko Mikhail Savvich’s home to complain against Varya’s act of riding the bicycle. He talked about the previous day’s incident. He said in his low plaintive voice, “And there is something else I have to say to you. I am a veteran and you are only going to start your career, and it is my duty as an older colleague of yours to warn you. You ride a bicycle and this is a highly reprehensible amusement for one who aspires to educate the young.” Belikov also said that the matter could be reported to the headmaster and would reach the patron’s ears too which would not be good for Maikhail Savvich. After listening to this and some other irritating words from Belikov, Mikhail Savvich replied, “It’s no man’s business whether my sister and I ride a bicycle or not! And if people stick their noses into my domestic and family affairs they can go to hell.” Belikov got upset and stood up to leave. He was hurt greatly because no one in his life had spoken so rudely to him. Before leaving he said that he would tell the headmaster about the conversation held between them.

Savvich under the fit of anger grasped him by the collar and gave a push, a push that was more than anything else in the world for a man like Belikov. The push rolled Belikov down the stair. The stairs were long and steep but he arrived at the bottom unhurt. It was a stroke of bad luck for Belikov that when he was rolling down the stairs, Varya accompanied by two other women enter the porch. They stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked at him coming down. He stood up; Varya recognized him. Supposing that he must have slipped, Varya couldn’t help bursting out with her loud ‘ha, ha, ha!

This buoyant resonant ‘ha, ha, was the end: the end of Belikov’s courting and of his earthly existence. He never again saw Varenka.” He came home and removed her photograph from the top of his desk. After it he lay down on his bed “never to leave it” because three days after this incident Belikov died.

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