Vanka Literary Elements


Realistic short fiction

Setting and Context

Moscow (for Vanka's present activities), along with the Zhivarev estate and the unidentified nearby village (in Vanka's memories); no specific date given, but presumably close to the story's year of publication (1886)

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person narration that limits itself to Vanka's perspective

Tone and Mood

The tone of the story tends to shift with Vanka's own attitudes. Overall, Chekhov's story shifts from deep melancholy (as Vanka reflects on his unpleasant present circumstances and begins writing the letter) to satisfaction and optimism (after Vanka posts the letter and gives himself a possible way home).

The mood of the story is generally quiet, somber, and lonely, since "Vanka" for the most part depicts Vanka alone with his various thoughts and memories.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Vanka himself; Antagonists: Alyakhin the shoemaker, Alyakhin's wife, and Vanka's fellow apprentices

Major Conflict

Vanka is upset with the rough treatment that he has received as Alyakhin's apprentice, and is determined to rejoin his grandfather in his home village.


Vanka rushes out into the street and posts his letter; this action gives him a new sense of satisfaction and hope.


Many of the events that Chekhov depicts in the short narrative of "Vanka" suggest similar events that may occur later, after the timeline of the narrative itself:

- The tough treatment that characters such as Vanka and Eel routinely endure foreshadows new, future instances of similarly harsh treatment.
- Vanka's failure to provide a clear address of the letter foreshadows the letter's probable failure to reach its destination.


Chekhov avoids understatement for much of "Vanka," since his young protagonist tends to see the world in extreme terms. In fact, Vanka may indulge in overstatement, exaggerating the negative qualities of his master Alyakhin and the positive qualities of his grandfather.

There are, however, a few instances:

- Some of the elements of the narrative that would normally stir strong emotion (Vanka's orphanhood, for instance) are presented quickly and with little commentary.
- Vanka refers to Moscow as a "big town," when in fact it is a gigantic city (51).


"Vanka" alludes to the stratified social structure of 19th-century Russia: Vanka himself comes from a peasant family that may include former serfs, while Olga Ignatyevna and the other Zhivarevs are members of the landed gentry. Russian Orthodox Christianity is also mentioned in passing.


Chekhov presents short yet vivid physical descriptions of many aspects of Vanka's world. Some of the most memorable are listed below:

- The nighttime scene of Vanka's writing
- The appearance and mannerisms of Vanka's grandfather
- The bodies of the dogs Kashtanka and Eel
- The trip to cut down the Christmas tree on the estate


- Apparently ineffectual gestures (such as the writing and sending of Vanka's letter) can be sources of fulfillment.
- Authority and trust can bring out the worst in people (such as Alyakhin the shoemaker) rather than the best.


- Vanka notes that some of the guns he has seen in Moscow shops are just like the ones "the master has at home" (parallel imagery, 51).
- Vanka frequently uses consecutive clauses or sentences that are similar in construction, such as the many phrases beginning in "I will" that he directs to his grandfather (parallel grammar, 50).

Metonymy and Synecdoche

- The "village" that Vanka frequently references stands for all the people in it. These references to the "village" also encompass the Zhivarev estate and thus appear to be a case of metonymy.


The dogs Kashtanka and Eel, which accompany Vanka's grandfather, are personified in various ways throughout the story. By giving these animals snuff, Konstantin Makarich himself treats these animals as though they are people. Chekhov's descriptions also serve to personify the two dogs, particularly Eel, whose crafty, cunning personality makes him seem more like a human trickster or bandit than like a simplistic dog.