Samuel Ramer, Associate Professor of History at Tulane University
Anton Chekhov’s stories “An Unpleasantness” and “Thieves” (sometimes translated as “The Horse Stealers”) take place in the world of late nineteenth-century Russian rural medicine. In addition to providing us a glimpse of that world, the stories devote special attention to three subjects of vital interest to historians. The first is that of social identity, something Chekhov clearly thought important to his protagonists. The stories also explore the relationship between their protagonists’ sense of their own social identity and the conflicts and indignities that were part of their everyday existence. Finally, Chekhov suggests circumstances in which these seeming trifles of everyday life may suddenly transform our consciousness and perception of the world. Chekhov knew the world of rural medicine well from his experience as a physician, and the ways in which he linked themes of social identity and everyday frustrations with the potential for radical transformations in consciousness can be suggestive to historians writing on these same subjects.