Reviewed by Dean M., Materials Handler

The Man in a Case by Anton Chekhov is also available in a short story collection on Hoopla.

Civil Discourse

The setting for the story “The Man in a Case” aka “About Truth” or "The Man in a Box" is a barn on the outskirts of a Russian village. A schoolmaster named Burkin and a veterinary surgeon named Ivan Ivanych discuss the topic of solitary people. The story is part of a short-story trilogy titled “The Little Trilogy” where men tell stories in three different settings, and there is always a profoundness from what they discuss in their short time together.

“The Man in a Case” is the 2nd story of this trilogy and in it Burkin tells Ivan the story of a schoolmaster, Burkin's neighbor, who lived a solitary and fearful life and caused fear in the lives around him. This man was named Byelikov. Byelikov is described as being “afraid to speak aloud, afraid to send letters, afraid to make acquaintances, afraid to read books, afraid to help the poor, to teach people to read and write…”. Byelikov is so solitary that his peers are perpetuated to help him get a wife. 

The story is no longer about the two men sitting in a barn telling stories, but somehow the reader is never ignorant of that fact. As readers discover the hardships that happened to Byelikov, they also discover the similarities between Byelikov’s life and overly precautious ways to the lives of most people and their seemingly normalized precautions. People work to stay comfortable and often take the safe approach to controversial problems to stay politically correct. The value of civil discourse relates because the telling of good and interesting stories will never be “politically correct”, instead it will be discourse into the lives of other people which can be helpful. Meeting people that cause fear are often the victims of another type of fear and, without the ability to tell stories, readers wouldn’t be able to self-reflect with others fears. Civil discourse allows this to happen. 

This is review is part of the Finding Value series, inspired by the eleven core values central to the Library's mission. Tune in as Library staff review books and movies that highlight the values accessibility, civil discourse, inclusiveness, integrity, intellectual freedom, lifelong learning, literacy, respect, safety, service, and stewardship.