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 that has recently fallen on him, his little mare is described as "white and motionless too" (17). Neither man nor mare cares move; both are still, frozen in time, waiting. Another example of the similar behavior between the two occurs when "the sledge driver clicks to the horse, cranes his neck like a swan. The mare cranes her neck, too" (18).
As the story opens Iona sits in his sleigh desperately waiting for his first fare, and when that fare arrives he immediately starts to talk of his son’s death (18). Although his best possible friend – the mare – is already present to listen to his story, Iona does not come to this realization until much later in the story. At the beginning, he still believes that what he needs, and will be able to find, is another human being with whom to share his woes.
The fare’s response to Iona’s story is, "have you gone cracked, you old dog? Look where you are going" (18). Iona, upset at this, continues to look around at the fare, in hopes of starting his story o...
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... no longer keep silence about the death of his son. He speaks to the air, and the mare is listening. She doesn’t shun him, abuse him, or ignore him. She just listens, as any good animal would do.
Beck, Alan, M., and Aaron Honoria Katcher. "Animal Companions: More Companion Than Animal." Man and Beast Revisited. Ed. Michael H. Robinson and Lionel Tiger. Washington: Smithsonian P, 1991. 265-66.
Chekhov, Anton. "Misery." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 17-21.
Hildebrandt, Sherri. "Another Kind of Grief." St. Paul Pioneer Press 13 Sept. 1998: 1-4.
Poggioli, Renato. "Storytelling in a Double Key." Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories. Ed. Ralph E. Matlaw. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1979. 316-317.
Royal Bank of Canada. "Pets and Human Beings." Montreal: Royal Bank Letter, July/Aug. 1989.
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