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March 29, 2010

Every great short story writer is pretty much great. Some are masters of insight. Some are masters of  pun. Some create magic with characters. Some send your head spinning with quirks and others just know how to design a crispy, yummy plot. Anton Chekhov was a lot of this, but to me the man ruled with insights through metaphors. I distinctly remember the story ‘Home’. It is probably the most aptly titled short-story I’ve ever read. I don’t know if you’ll open the link and read it. I say do it. Come to conclusions for yourself. Or read on. I will deconstruct it here the way I read it.

The story is about a busy father who comes home to learn that his 7-yr old son smoked a cigarette. Throughout the story he plays the devil’s advocate against his own sense of reasoning and weighs various alternatives on how to educate his son – so that he learns for the right reasons. That the father is a public prosecutor by profession, is only fitting.

Now these are three ways in which Chekhov drove home some insights simply through his title and it is only the tip of the iceberg considering it’s his story:

At home with your thoughts – Random thoughts and musings come to your mind when it’s free, resting and allowed to think privately. These appear to be homelike thoughts, home standing for rest, comfort and a spot that allows you to unwind.The protagonist strolls through them till he finds his solution. The son is perpetually at home with his own thoughts until his father finds a way to enter them.

For people who are forced for whole hours, and even days, to think by routine in one direction, such free private thinking affords a kind of comfort, an agreeable solace.

Think close to homeThe father struggles to discover the right lesson that’d make sense to his son. He tries all. The son buys none. At the brink of frustration, it finally strikes him to speak the son’s language. The lesson is wrapped in an interesting story which more than catches the boy’s attention and forms an imprint. Is his title now referring to the target’s comfort zone?

From daily observation of his son the prosecutor had become convinced that children, like savages, have their own artistic standpoints and requirements peculiar to them, beyond the grasp of grown-up people. Had he been attentively observed, Seryozha might have struck a grown-up person as abnormal. He thought it possible and reasonable to draw men taller than houses, and to represent in pencil, not only objects, but even his sensations.

Drive home a point: Deeply moved by the story, the child vows to never smoke again. Home is now the desired destination. Having succeeded in his little mission, the father is left once again to ponder on the things that human beings are agreeable to.

“They would tell me it was the influence of beauty, artistic form,” he meditated. “It may be so, but that’s no comfort. It’s not the right way, all the same. . . . Why must morality and truth never be offered in their crude form, but only with embellishments, sweetened and gilded like pills? It’s not normal. . . . It’s falsification . . . deception . . . tricks . . . .”

He thought of the jurymen to whom it was absolutely necessary to make a “speech,” of the general public who absorb history only from legends and historical novels, and of himself and how he had gathered an understanding of life not from sermons and laws, but from fables, novels, poems.

“Medicine should be sweet, truth beautiful, and man has had this foolish habit since the days of Adam . . . though, indeed, perhaps it is all natural, and ought to be so. . . . There are many deceptions and delusions in nature that serve a purpose.”

More than anything, this story reaffirmed my faith in advertising and it’s attempts at being closer home to the consumer’s mind rather than pocket.  Advertising tries to give people a reason to buy. The right reason to buy. A reason they can relate to.  A reason that is about them because most people only understand things they can relate to.

Short story shorter: Understand people, diagnose the problem, give them what they need, make the medium engaging as hell so that they sit-up, listen to what you’re trying to say so as to indirectly influence their future course-of-action.

Now most branding, advertising, copy, planning books say this but how much cooler is it when it comes from Chekhov?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2010 11:47 PM

    Read the story. Came back and read your post. I am never this obedient on ANY blog!

    Loved the story. Loved your deconstruction of it.

    Also pleasantly smiled at your equating it to advertising. It is beautiful how all young marketing brains have the beautiful theoretical horniness about advertising. I speak it because I have been there.

    The real world fucks up the theory very bad though. Not that it doesn’t work. Just that no one cares.

    • March 29, 2010 11:56 PM

      Yeah I have seen that 😀 That no one cares. It’s alright mostly. Practical real-world knowledge is just as important. It is only frustrating at times when your gut is screaming out really loud but no one wants to hear. All said n done, to me at least, the theories and connections serve the purpose of giving me meaning behind my pursuits. I never expect to get better at work through my random mental connections. I just expect to enjoy my work more ‘cuz there be fun stuff to link it too.

      And thank you for reading the story. It easily deserved more attention than the post.

  2. March 30, 2010 12:12 AM

    Fascinations with theory

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