Vanka Study Guide

Anton Chekhov devoted several of his stories to the lives of ordinary people; in some famous cases, he focused specifically on unknown, obscure, and miserable individuals. One such poignant work is "Vanka," the story of a lonely peasant boy who faces a difficult life in Moscow.

"Vanka" was written in 1886 and first published in the St. Petersburg Newspaper on December 25, under the "Christmas Stories" category. The main character is a boy of nine, Vanka Zhukov, who for three months has been apprenticed to the shoemaker Alyakhin. Vanka is an orphan: his mother Pelageya died and his father is barely mentioned. The only person who is seemingly sympathetic to Vanka is his grandfather Konstantin Makarich, to whom Vanka spends much of the short story writing a Christmas letter.

Already a specimen of Chekhov's prowess as a fiction writer—particularly his ability to craft memorable characters in a short space—"Vanka" also opens up intriguing possibilities in other media. In 1981, a puppet cartoon “Vanka Zhykov” was filmed at the studio “Kyiv Science Film.”