The story “Man in a case” Chekhov wrote in 1898. The work is the first story of the “Little Trilogy” of the writer – the cycle, which also included the stories “Gooseberries” and “About Love.”
In “The Man in a Case” Chekhov talks about the teacher of the dead languages Belikov, who tried to conclude his whole life in a “case”. The author reinterprets the image of the “little man” in a new way. Belikov is larger than Gogol’s character, he becomes the embodiment of a whole social phenomenon – “boxiness.”
Belikov – a teacher of Greek and Latin, “a man in a case”, taught in one gymnasium with Burkin, the neighbor of the narrator.
Varenka – Sister Kovalenko, “thirty years old”, “tall, slender, black-browed, red-cheeked,” “not a damsel, but a marmalade.”
Mikhail Savvich is a teacher of geography and history, “from Khokhlov,” “young, tall, swarthy, with huge hands.”
Burkin is a gymnasium teacher, neighbor Belikov, who told his story to Ivan Ivanovich.
Chimsh-Himalayan Ivan Ivanych is a veterinarian.
“At the very edge of the village of Mironositsky, in the barn of the prefects of Prokofy, the late hunters have lodged for the night” – Ivan Ivanych and Burkin. The men did not sleep, telling different stories. The conversation turned to lonely people, “who, like a crab or snail, try to escape into their shells.”
Burkin remembers the history of the teacher of the Greek language Belikov. He was different in that in any weather he always went out into the street wearing galoshes, with an umbrella and in a warm coat on cotton wool. For each thing, Belikov had his own cover – for the umbrella, for the clock, and for the penknife, even his face “seemed to be in the case, too”, because he “hid it in the raised collar”, wore glasses.
“This man had a constant and irresistible desire to surround himself with a shell, to create for himself, so to speak, a case <…> of external influences.” Even his subject – “dead languages”, was for the teacher in a peculiar way to escape from reality.
For Belikov only those newspaper articles were understood in which something was forbidden. Any deviation from the rules caused him to be discouraged, and his favorite expression was “as if something did not work out.” His suspiciousness and caution the teacher oppressed the whole city.
Belikov had a strange habit – he walked around the teachers’ quarters, sat there silently and left, considering such visits his “comradely duty.” Belikov was a neighbor of Burkina, so the narrator knew that at home “a man in a case” also had “shutters, latches, a whole series of all prohibitions, and – ah, how it would not work!”.
However, despite his character, Belikov almost got married. They were assigned to the school a new teacher of history and geography – Mikhail Savich, who came with his sister Varenka, a brave woman, a songwriter. Somehow, on the name day at the director, seeing Varya and Belikov near, the teachers came to the idea that “it would be good to marry them.” Everyone began to convince the teacher of the need to marry. Varya, too, was not averse to getting married and giving Belikov “clear benevolence.” Deciding to marry, Belikov increasingly visited Kovalenok, but he postponed the offer, sharing with Burkin his fears that Vary is too keen and “marriage is a serious thing.”
Vary’s brother hated the Greek teacher from the very first day, giving him the name of “crawling abhazh”, but he did not interfere with their relations.
However, everything turned over one case. Some prankster drew a caricature with the inscription “enamored anthropos”, depicting Belikov and walking with him by the arm Varya. Drawing under unclear circumstances, it turned out that all teachers, officials and Belikov himself. “Caricature made the most difficult impression on him.” However, when leaving the house, the teacher saw Kovalenko and Varya on bicycles, he was overshadowed even more, because he believed that it was not proper to ride a bicycle to women and teachers of the gymnasium.
The next day Belikov felt unwell and even left his studies for the first time. In the evening he went to Kovalenkam, where he found only his brother. Belikov tried to explain that riding bicycles is indecent, than only angered Mikhail Savich. And, when the Greek teacher promised to report on the content of their conversation to the director, Kovalenko could not stand it and sent Belikov down the stairs.
Just at this time Varya came in with two women. Deciding that Belikov fell himself, she could not resist and loudly laughed. The idea that the whole city will learn about the incident was so terrible for the teacher that he “went back to his house, <…> lay down and no longer got up.” A month later, Belikov died. When he was lying in the coffin, his expression was pleasant and meek, “just as he was glad that at last he was put in a case from which he would never leave.” After his death, everyone was relieved. Soon “life began to flow as before,” “it did not get any better.”
Burkin finished his story. Ivan Ivanych, reflecting on the story of Belikov, says: “Is it that we live in a city in stuffiness, in crowded places, we write unnecessary papers, play a screw – is not this case?”.
In the story “The Man in a Case” Chekhov first identified one of the leading themes of his work – the theme of “futility.” In the author’s opinion, this social phenomenon is reflected in the fear of the world around, in suspicion, in shyness over something new and unwillingness to let this into your life, after all, “whatever comes of it.” On the example of Belikov, the author in a grotesque form denounces all the shortcomings of “cardboard” and shows that it leads only to degradation and devastation of the person.
The proposed brief retelling of “The Man in a Case” will be useful for schoolchildren in preparing for lessons and testing works on Russian literature.