Vanka Summary and Analysis of "Vanka": Second Half


After pledging to protect and pray for his grandfather, Vanka continues his letter with a description of his Moscow surroundings. He writes to Konstantin Makarich about the large houses of the Moscow gentry, the religious ceremonies, and especially the different goods and foodstuffs available for purchase. The Moscow shops sell good fishhooks and several different guns, while displays of large fish and various types of fowl have also caught Vanka's eye.

Vanka then includes a Christmastime request in his letter. There will be a large Christmas tree and festivities at the mansion on the Zhivarev estate, and Vanka wants his grandfather to take one of the gilded nuts that are brought out during the celebration and put it aside in a green chest. Konstantin Makarich, as Vanka notes, should be able to obtain this token if he goes to Olga Ignatyevna, one of the Zhivarevs who was friendly with Vanka during his time in the village.

As Vanka temporarily puts his letter aside and gazes out the windowpane, his thoughts turn to the happy times that he had spent with his grandfather. Konstantin Makarich, at Christmas, would customarily go get a Christmas tree for the Zhivarevs; Vanka had gone with him and (despite the cold) had enjoyed the company of his smoking, chuckling grandfather. Suddenly, in the stillness of the forest of firs, a hare would leap up. Konstantin Makarich would mirthfully begin to shout after the quick-moving animal.

Vanka and his grandfather would then take the tree to the Zhivarevs' main house, where Vanka's mother was a servant before her death. Festivities would begin, and Olga Ignatyevna would decorate the tree. Vanka also remembers that Olga Ignatyevna favored him in various ways: she taught him to read, write, count, and even dance. However, the death of Vanka's mother brought these happy times in the household to an end, as Vanka was first sent to stay with his grandfather in the kitchen, then sent to Moscow as an apprentice.

Continuing his letter, Vanka begs his grandfather to come to Moscow and take him away. He again emphasizes the hunger and loneliness that plague him, along with Alyakhin's cruelty and beatings. Then, Vanka concludes his letter by sending his regards to a few different figures from his life in the village—Alyona, one-eyed Yegor, the coachman—and by directing one final plea for aid to Konstantin Makarich.

Now that the letter is complete, Vanka folds the document and puts it in an envelope. On the envelope he writes "To grandfather in the village"; he thinks a little more and then adds the words "TO KONSTANTIN MAKARICH." Without even bothering to put on his coat, the pleased and energetic Vanka runs out into the snow and puts the letter in a letter-box, as the men at a butcher's shop had advised him to do when he had asked them about posting letters. He finds the closest letter-box, drops his letter in, and heads back to Alyakhin's premises.

The story ends with Vanka asleep one hour later, filled with hopes of deliverance. He dreams of his grandfather sitting barefoot on the ledge of a stove. In this dream, Konstantin Makarich is reading Vanka's letter to the cooks, while Eel walks back and forth, his tail wagging.


A story as short as "Vanka" does not allow much movement away from its main, structuring conflict. Thus, the story's second half continues to be dominated by the source of tension—Vanka's desire to escape from Alyakhin's cruelty—that structured the first half of Chekhov's narrative. There is not much to add where this material is concerned, since further records of Alyakhin's abuses and further expressions of Vanka's desperation could make Vanka seem hopelessly monotonous. However, there is much that can be done in terms of describing new aspects of Vanka's world and Vanka's memories. Earlier, for instance, Chekhov briefly presented some of Vanka's wintertime memories of the village: with scenes such as the memory of the Christmas tree, the author continues this focus, using Vanka's wistful reflections to add new notes of lyricism to the prose.

Yet without completely destabilizing the main premises of "Vanka," Chekhov does add a few qualifications, exceptions, and complications to the basic assumptions about Vanka's world. Consider, in this respect, Chekhov's approach to Moscow as a location. In the first half of the story, Moscow is presented mainly as a place to which Vanka has been transported but has little apparent connection: his life in Moscow has been mostly confined to Alyakhin's household, a site of suffering. Or so it would seem. As "Vanka" continues, it becomes clear that Vanka's experience of the city is more dynamic, more various, and more positive. His description of the Moscow shops, for instance, is imbued with enthusiasm: "there are all sorts of guns just like the master has at home they must cost a hundred rubles each. And in the butchers shops there are grouse and wood-cock and hares but the people in the shop dont say where they were shot" (51, errors intentional). Alyakhin does not completely define Vanka's experience of Moscow. Instead, the ireful shoemaker is simply one (extremely important) part of the urban realm that Vanka now inhabits.

This section also returns to the theme of Vanka's orphanhood, and explains how the loss of Vanka's mother Pelageya is connected to Vanka's relocation to Moscow: "when Pelageya died, the orphaned Vanka was sent down to the back kitchen to his grandfather, and from there to Moscow, to Alyakhin the shoemaker" (51). What is interesting here is how little attention Pelageya receives. Her death shaped her son's life and, even had it not, would have been a sad and stunning event. Yet Vanka does not connect her to any specific or important memories, certainly not in the manner that he dwells on his time with Olga Ignatyevna or Konstantin Makarich. Chekhov's protagonist, however, is not insensitive: more likely, he is so overwhelmed by his misery in Moscow that past miseries have been temporarily shut out from his young mind.

Despite its main character's past hardships, "Vanka" ends with a few positive notes. The first is Vanka's success in finishing the letter. As Chekhov's narrator explains, Vanka is "Pleased that no one had prevented him from writing" (52); indeed, it would have been entirely possible for Chekhov to give his protagonist the opposite fate, bringing Alyakhin back to the house and disrupting Vanka's writing at the story's close. Vanka is instead given the satisfaction of seeing his plan through to its conclusion, of airing his grievances in writing and, perhaps, of securing salvation.

Realistically, there is very little chance that Vanka will leave Alyakhin's domain. The letter itself lacks important pieces of identifying information—the name of the village, the last name of Konstantin Makarich—that would help it reach its destination. And even if the letter were (by some extraordinary turn of luck) to make it to the right recipient, it is not evident that a humble watchman such as Konstantin Makarich would have the ability or inclination to take control of his grandson's life. "Vanka" ends, though, without considering these realities, evident though they may be to the attentive reader of Chekhov. Instead, the short story concludes with a vision of home and a sense of contentment for young Vanka. He may not get the Christmas miracle of deliverance that he had been hoping for, but after a life marked by significant moments of sadness, he is granted a moment of peace.