On Chekhov’s The Death of a Clerk: When Something Means Nothing

Hardly anyone can stop oneself from sneezing, so when a clerk, Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov sneezed in the middle of an opera, he accidentally sprayed the man in front of him, a general who served in the Department of Transportation. (I know some people don’t think of covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze, so I’m guessing this main character is of that kind.) He apologized to the general who simply dismissed it as nothing of importance, but our hero was convinced that the general did not believe it was unintentional and thought of him (Cherviakov) as being rude. Hence, he tried to apologize again, even going to his office days after the incident. In the end the general got extremely annoyed with the clerk Cherviakov and yelled at him to get out of his office.

The clerk deeply affected by this treatment, went home and died.

Sometimes we tend to attach meaning to actions of people who may not have meant for those actions to mean anything. Simply put, we misunderstand/misread/misconstrue people’s actions.

Such is what happened with Cherviakov. He was convinced that he made a bad impression on the general and wanted to rectify it even after the general had said, “Never mind, never mind” and later, “I’ve already forgotten it, and you keep at it.” He could not accept the fact that the general was dismissive of something he thought was important. He misread the general’s annoyance with his (Cherviakov’s) pestering him for the latter’s refusal to accept his sincere apology.

This is all too common. I know I was guilty of this in my past relationship when I was young and very immature: I insisted on being offended over something so inconsequential just because I wanted attention.

Some people simply lack the capacity to ignore paltry matters. Everything has meaning even when there’s none.

It is not uncommon to hear from someone you know about how offended they felt about something that somebody had said to them, or the look that was thrown at them by somebody, although you may personally think that it was not intended to mean anything.

Especially on social media today — a friend may post something like a meme, and another will think it is directed at him.

These days people get offended so easily. When have we become so weak? Why can’t we be like the general and simply let go of minor nuisances? Why do we have to be like the clerk who kept harping on something that the general dismissed as nothing of importance and for which Cherviakov later died?

The only one we are hurting by being too concerned about trivial matters such as what the clerk experienced, is ourselves because realizing that nobody else cares about what we deem important will just hurt us even more.

Let’s not allow trivialities to annoy us to death. 😉

Happy weekend! 💕

T.

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2 thoughts on “On Chekhov’s The Death of a Clerk: When Something Means Nothing

  1. What a joy to read a blog post that has a strong message AND reminds me of a Chekhov short story that I haven’t read in 40 years! Time to pull out my book of Anton’s short stories–and revisit the master. Thanks, Therese!

    Liked by 1 person

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