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Written by Timothy Sexton
“And the wind staggered like a drunkard.”
This simile occurs near the end of the first paragraph of “The Witch” and seems to be nothing more than a common implementation of a comparison for immediately effect. What Chekhov is actually doing, however, is subtly laying the groundwork for a central element of the plot. The title character is a wife whose husband gradually discovers is in league with the devil giving her the power to manipulate the wind at her will.
“What can I do for you?" he asked a lady in an antediluvian mantle, whose back view was extremely suggestive of a huge dung-beetle.
This early line in “A Defenseless Creature” is an example of a metaphor that accomplishes two things simultaneously. Even though Chekhov does not indicate that the description of the woman is actually the thoughts of the man asking the question, it is a natural assumption. And from that assumption much speculation can be made about the still mysterious questioner and what kind of person he is to use such lofty language to describe someone. The other thing the metaphor accomplishes is giving the reader an equally valid idea of what the woman looks like, thus allowing certain expectations to build which will either be met or undermined.
"The little town of B----, consisting of two or three crooked streets, was sound asleep."
The opening line of “The Chemist’s Wife” engages metaphor in a way similar to “The Witch.” The personification of the town as an entity capable of sleeping—along with the description of being small—instantly situates setting in the mind of the reader. As the story plays out, however, it becomes clear that Chekhov was having a little fun with misdirection. By the second paragraph the very concept that this line is entirely metaphorical is given a little shake. Yes, truly, the town was sound asleep, but in a way that not completely consistent with symbolism; it was also literally sleeping since it was nighttime and all but one resident was fast asleep. As it will turn, the plot actually turns on the literal qualities of the metaphor of a town that is sound asleep.
“The sun-baked grass had a disconsolate, hopeless look: even if there were rain it could never be green again.”
Sultry. Stifling. Not even the smallest of a cloud. This is the imagery with which “The Huntsman” opens and surely it is a description that competently conveys the climate as a means of setting the conditions of the story to come. But when you add in a metaphor that suggests even the brown grass despairs of the heat ever ending and relieving rain ever coming, well, that just shifts the conveyance from merely competent to brilliantly proficient.
“He bent down and with his lips emitted the sound of an ungreased wheel.”
With this metaphorical image which is confused with the literal sound of someone kissing another, the titular event of “A Slander” kicks off and the gravity of gossip ensure it will not stop until it reaches its destination. It is especially artful of Chekhov to craft a story about a rumor being spread of a secret kiss behind closed without actually mentioning or even referring to the word “kiss.” In fact, the first time that the word “kiss” is mentioned is in the next paragraph as dialogue by the person making a claim about what he only heard and did not actually seen.
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