Vanka is a nine-year-old boy who was apprenticed to the family of Alyakhin the shoemaker. Previously, while his mother was alive, Vanka lived with her and his grandfather in a village that Chekhov leaves unnamed. Upon his mother's death, Vanka was transferred to Moscow, to new masters who mistreated him. One Christmas Eve, Vanka decided he was unable to take any more of the disastrous conditions and sat down to write a letter to his grandfather, asking the old man to take him back to the village. While writing his letter, Vanka both imagines his grandfather's present actions and dwells on a series of pleasant scenes from his past life.
Alyakhin is a shoemaker and is Vanka's new master. Although he never actually appears in the story, he is an important presence: the poor treatment that Vanka receives at the hands of Alyakhin and the rest of Alyakhin's household motivates Vanka to write the letter to Konstantin Makarich.
Konstantin Makarich is Vanka's grandfather, who lives in the village and works as a night watchman for the Zhivarev family. He is described as a lively, little old man, and Vanka dwells especially on his everyday duties and habitual jokes. This easygoing fellow is the intended recipient of Vanka's letter.
Olga is a member of the Zhivarev family, who educated Vanka while he was living with his mother and grandfather. Vanka mentions her in the letter to his grandfather, when he asks the old man to save a gilt walnut from the Zhivarev family's Christmas tree.
Pelageya was Vanka's mother and a servant in the house of the Zhivarev family. Unfortunately, her death heralded the end of Vanka's relatively good life on the estate.
Eel is one of the dogs who accompanies Vanka's grandfather on his rounds. Eel is named after the aquatic animal that, with his long dark body, he resembles. His character is also given significant attention by Chekhov, who dwells on some of Eel's characteristics and activities: his outward appearance of pleasantness, his cunning pilfering, and his ability to survive brutal punishments.
She is a female dog who accompanies Vanka's grandfather around the Zhivarev estate.
Though her mistreatment of Vanka is less dramatic than the beatings that Alyakin administers, Alyakhin's wife is nonetheless disliked by Vanka. The young boy resents her because she scolds him, and because she and her husband eat better food than Vanka himself does.
Vanka's Fellow Apprentices
Alyakhin's older shoemaker apprentices are mentioned briefly, and are notable mostly because they mistreat Vanka; they mock him and make him pilfer food from Alyakhin.
Vanka Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Vanka is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.