“Sleepy” During Finals Week: an analytical satire on Anton Chekhov’s “Sleepy”

Anton Chekhov represents a literary legend with works that resonate in modern society and common allusions. Chekhov’s stories, though written in the 1800’s, can still be relatable in modern-day situations. Chekhov mirrors human nature in his stories which can be applied to a variety of real-life circumstances.
When selecting a story, I scanned the titles in the table of contents, looking for any that might catch my eye, even if they weren’t quite representative of the contents. I flipped through most of the short stories, paying the most attention to the endings. Endings, especially on short stories, are crucial because they bring the generally short plot to a close. If they are intriguing or unique, I am much more enthralled with the work. This, of course, also applies to television shows, books, and movies. The best kind of ending is one that surprises me.
At the risk of sounding haughty, that’s not easy to do. I tend to put myself in the author’s shoes in any of the aforementioned medias. Most of the time, I can tell by the writer’s style where the story will ultimately end up. I can tell who they will kill for the biggest impact, I can sense important foreshadowing because it’s exactly what I would do in their position. So when a story startles me, I am pleased.
Chekhov’s “Sleepy” caught me off guard in this fashion. For one thing, it describes exactly how I feel as I’m writing this paper: sleepy. Secondly, it has a very dramatic and unforeseen ending that stands out among the stories. For Varka, the thirteen year old servant girl and protagonist of the story, the whole world is acting differently––especially the green patch of light, the shadows of the hanging clothes, and the cricket in the stove––around her for the sole reason that she has lost too much sleep. She is hallucinating and becoming more and more ill physically and mentally. She is barely functioning enough to make through the day with all the chores her master and mistress dump on her.
This story of Varka immediately intrigued me. Not only that, it was remarkably relatable to the life of a college student at the close of a semester. Sleep is a valued treasure but it is often unattainable during finals week. In a week such as this, all professors are asking for final projects to close out the year. Essays, presentations, exams, and speeches are dumped on the heads of college students. One assignment after another wears them down and cuts in to the time they sleep. It is said of college that only two of the following can be achieved at any given time: school work, social life, or sufficient sleep. Especially at the end of a semester, if a student’s priority is in a choice GPA, the other two simply have to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, when sleep falls by the wayside, so do mental functionality and focus.
This is the exact problem that Varka is encountering. Every time she is given a new task, it adds to her exhaustion. She drifts off as she rocks the baby into a world of dreams. Her memories stress her and make her fearful and paranoid in the real world. She is jittery and the tasks that require her to stand still are by far the most difficult. At least the active chores help keep her blood flowing.
Varka is also haunted by the past. As a servant girl from a poor family for a very rude cobbler, she has seen her share of hardship. The dreams she sees as she fades in and out of sleep are not just whimsical hallucinations, they are painful memories that follow her through time and do not let her forget. Her father’s death and her mother’s mourning become vivid as if she is reliving them in her waking hours. She is only dreaming, of course, but these haunting memories make Varka’s situation and continually growing exhaustion so much worse. Everything seems worse when one is deprived of sleep. Though these memories are not pertinent to Varka’s current position, they add to her stress.
A college student experiences a similar phenomena during finals week. Not only do the current assignments loom over them, so do past assignments, failures, and the ultimate question: “can I still pass?” Not just school work follows them into finals week, but also all the drama among friends and family, making it that much harder to focus. Stress has a tendency to pile. When stress is an issue in one part of life, all the other parts become more stressful as well. At times, this can even lead to hallucinations and insanity similar to what Varka experiences.
Though professors perhaps do not intend to fill the shoes of the tyrannical cobbler and his wife, they fit best into their position in this metaphor. Professors, though perhaps not as cruel as the couple in the story, are the student’s slave drivers. They give out regular assignments and ask every ounce of effort from their pupils. Instead of asking students to wash the steps, they demand an eight page essay. Instead of requesting peeled potatoes, they demand a fifteen minute presentation. They are the ones who smack the students on the back of the head to keep them awake through the night. Though perhaps unintentionally, the professors are the reason that students get no sleep during finals week.
Chekhov’s story has a very gruesome end. Varka is so deprived of sleep that she ends up strangling her master’s baby because it won’t stop crying long enough for her to rest. Her murderous instincts are a result of her hallucinations which are, in turn, a result of pressure and stress which was magnified by her sleep deprivation. Her retaliation is not only revenge against the baby, but revenge against the master and mistress who ask so much more of Varka than she can physically give. Her actions are directly the product of desperation, perhaps, but a desperation she was driven to by her surroundings: the oppressive masters, the chilling remembrances, the constant labor demands, and the wailing child.
Students at the end of a semester are not so far removed from the state of desperation Varka reaches. Lack of sleep can lead to a person’s crazy actions during wakefulness. As students wade through the stack of assignments they face at the end of the year, they get less and less sleep and their mind becomes more and more irrational. This scenario with Varka and the baby presents a fearsome warning to professors: be wary what you drive your students to during finals week or they may just kill everything you love. Perhaps this irrationality of the sleep-deprived mind explains how this essay turned from analytical to satirical.
The most notable thing Chekhov does not accomplish in his short story is italicizing everything.
Chekhov’s works should be remembered, not only because they are undying works of literary art, but because they are timeless. Varka’s story may be set in the 19th century, but her situation can still be recognized from a modern viewpoint. Therefore, Chekhov has created a piece of work that can be related to human circumstance for years after he penned it. These timeless tales are the ones worth reading, worth studying, and worth writing analytical satires on.

Brother, Sister Pt. 2

“Hey!” He swung his head toward me and laughed. He actually had the gall to laugh. I imagined he wasn’t challenged by girls often, but he’d clearly never messed with an older sister before.

“He keeps the cards,” I said in a monotone, like my favorite superhero did on tv.

“What are you gonna do about it, girly-girl? Call your mommy?”

I stepped toward him threateningly, but he didn’t seem to find it very threatening. He clenched a fist and I worried he’d shove me too. He was stronger than me any day.

But I still hadn’t shown my weapon. I may not have had strength, but I had claws. I stared at him defiantly and when he reached toward my shoulders to push me back, I lashed out. With all the force I had, my hand connected with his neck and I dragged my nails across his skin. No, into his skin.

He gasped and clutched his neck where blood already pooled in the little red welts. “Ow! You made me bleed, you cow!”

Now, I’m not a mean person, but in defense of my brother, I’d do anything. Say anything. You do not mess with my kid brother, or you will face my wrath.

“What’re ya gonna do about it, whiny pants? Call your mommy?” I taunted. “You can tell her a girl put you in your place.”

I was still on fire with rage and I’m sure he could see it. He backed down slowly and ran away. I ran a finger over the sharp edge of my nails, feeling rather proud of myself.

“You didn’t have to do that,” my brother said.

“I know,” I replied. “But I’d do again in a heartbeat. No one messes with my brother. Ever. Unless it’s me.”

A thought occurred to me and my smugness evaporated. “Don’t tell Mom?”

He grinned. “Never.”

And we never did.

Brother, Sister Part 1

Since I’m writing a novel this month, here’s a short story to tide over my avid readers. This is part one:

Our mom was on the other side of the store, promising to return to the toy section as soon as she finished stocking up with groceries. We had a solid thirty minutes to blow running around looking at Legos, Hot Wheels, and Beyblades. I’d never been into Barbies. I was always more interested in the boyish things because it gave me a good reason to spend time with my younger brother.

I threw the ball; he caught it. He threw the ball; I caught it, barely. He had always been more adept at sports than I. He was faster and sometimes smarter, but also younger. It was the only time in our lives that I was stronger than he. His speed only helped him win in tickle fights.

Next, we picked up the plastic swords hanging on the aisle. They awkwardly had cardboard hanging off of them that clashed as we swung them towards each other. Neither of us knew anything about sword-fighting, but we had seen the movies, so we knew enough. Despite the cardboard, these plastic swords were much better than the pool noodles we used at home.

After I’d gotten both a hand and a foot “cut off” I surrendered my blade and moved to the next aisle. He lingered behind to look at the newest Pokemon cards. I was only gone for a minute or so. There wasn’t much interesting on the next aisle aside from pool toys and water guns. We had plenty of those and I didn’t care to have more. I could, however, go for some more Pokemon cards to add to my collection.

When I returned to the cards section, my brother was no longer alone. A much larger boy loomed over him, hair a mess and cheeks red. My brother was just looking at him quizzically. He never had been one to say much.

“Give me those cards,” the bigger boy hissed.

“Why?” My brother replied. “I was going to get them.”

“Because, they have my lucky Pokemon on the front. I can’t get any other ones. Those have the best cards. All of the others are crap.” The boy held his hand out expectantly as if my brother would hand over the card pack he was clutching.

“I don’t think they do it that way,” my brother whispered. He wasn’t helping his case.

“Give me the cards, kid,” the boy growled.

My brother shook his head.

The boy moved quickly, shoving my brother squarely in the shoulders. A string of insults left his mouth. They were all elementary school insults—butt face, two-legged freak of nature, and the like—which are harmless enough, but were enough to infuriate me. No one touched my brother. No one insulted him. Except for me and, occasionally, our dad.