Vanka Metaphors and Similes

Eel (Metaphor/Simile)

One of the most obvious similes in "Vanka" involves the name of Eel the dog, who is called Eel "on account of his black coat and long, weasel-like body" (49).

Yet the comparison between Eel and an actual eel is not the only metaphorical turn that occurs in Chekhov's descriptions of this distinctive canine. Eel is also personified as a creature capable of "the most Jesuitical spite and malice" (49). How he is described references both a lower-order animal (the eel) and higher-order cunning (the Jesuits, a group of Catholic priests), creating a memorable image from comparisons that would normally have strikingly different connotations.

The Milky Way (Simile)

As he contemplates his letter, Vanka envisions the Milky Way above his home village: "the Milky Way stood out as clearly as if newly scrubbed for the holiday and polished with snow" (50). This description is inflected with strong positive tones of freshness and vividness. Though seen only in Vanka's imagination, the Milky Way is a splendid sight that is in line with the spirit of the Christmas "holiday," much unlike Vanka's dreary surroundings on Alyakhin's premises.

Chuckling (Metaphor)

One of Chekhov's most emphatic metaphors involves the sounds that Vanka recalls from his trip to get the Christmas tree: "Grandfather would give a chuckle, and the frost-bound wood chucked, and Vanka, following their example, chuckled, too" (51). Vanka's participation in the chuckling shows that he is both in good humor and in harmony with his surroundings. At Alyakin's, however, he experiences a situation that is exactly the opposite, a removal from the welcoming natural world of the "frost-bound wood" and a dreary lifestyle that gives him little or nothing to chuckle about.

The Fir Trees (Metaphor)

An intriguing instance of personification occurs when Vanka goes to chop down the Christmas tree with his grandfather: "The young fir-trees, coated with frost, stood motionless, waiting to see which one of them was to die" (51). Despite the indication that one of the trees will "die," there is nothing especially sorrowful about this image from one of Vanka's happy memories. Instead, Chekhov employs such a description of the "fir-trees" to suggest the active and lively quality of Vanka's imagination: other non-human aspects of Vanka's world (Eel, the entire forest) have already been personified, offering indications that Vanka sees his surroundings in a vital, metaphorically-rich manner.

Vanka's Terrible Life (Simile)

In the final stages of his letter, Vanka uses a simile to describe his poor treatment in Alyakhin's household: "I have such a miserable life worse than a dogs" (51, errors intentional). Although such a declaration may seem like an overstatement in other cases, it is remarkably accurate in the context of Vanka's life. Vanka does in fact have a life worse than that of the dogs described in "Vanka": while Kashtanka is mostly left to her own devices and Eel is punished for unmistakable offenses, Vanka is subjected to deprivations, insults, and ill-justified beatings in a manner that neither of these dogs must endure.