Essay about The Importance of the Mare in Anton Chekhov’s Misery

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The Importance of the Mare in Misery

Iona Potapov, the main character in Anton Chekhov’s short story, "Misery," is yearning for someone to listen to his woes. Every human he comes in contact with blatantly ignores his badly-needed-to-tell-story by either shunning him or falling asleep. There is, however, one character in this story that would willingly listen to Iona, a character who is with Iona through almost the entire story. This character is his mare.

Renato Poggioli describes the story as being built "around two motionless figures, an animal and a man" (316). Iona and the mare are very much alike. They appear to be each other’s only companion, and they also act a lot alike. When Iona sits quietly, covered in snow
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Iona hesitantly, tries to start his story again by saying, "this week . . . er . . . my . . . er . . . son died" (19). The tone of his sentence leads us to believe he is scared to tell these gentlemen his story, since they are abusing him. But nevertheless, Iona desperately wants to speak, and again takes his chances with the three drunken young men who are his next fare. They shut him up by threatening a slap on the neck.

His last encounter with a prospective human listener takes place back at the cab station. All of the other cabmen are asleep, which leaves Iona in a state of loneliness until a fellow cabman momentarily wakes up for a drink. Iona jumps at the opportunity to speak to him. Iona makes small talk before bringing up his story. But once Iona begins to speak of his dead son, he sees that the young cabman has fallen back to sleep (20).

Iona is more depressed now that his attempts to engage human listeners have failed since, according to Poggioli, Iona believes "only the compassion of a fellow man may console his heart" (317). Iona does not consider telling his story to his mare until the very end of the story, when there is no one else left to tell. He doesn’t even consider talking to his mare because, according to Beck and Katcher, while it is clear that humans have "rewarding and clearly defined social relationships with . . . animals that provided essential material benefits"; most people still believe that

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