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Literature / A Problem

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"A Problem" is a Short Story published in 1884 by Anton Chekhov.

A Russian family, the Uskovs, are locked in argument about an incident caused by one of their own. One of the younger members, Sasha, has forged a promissory note from one of his uncles, and since its discovery, the family has been arguing about whether to hush up the matter or let it go to court.

This story includes examples of the following tropes:

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  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: The Colonel stands for letting Sasha take the consequences of his offense, arguing that preserving the family honor shouldn't excuse shielding a criminal. Ivan Markovitch argues for leniency. Arguing Sasha's poor childhood should serve as extenuating circumstances, he claims it would suit both their moral and civic duties to give him a second chance. The story itself seems to side with the Colonel, if only because Sasha, far from being the innocent penitent Ivan sees, doesn't really care to change his ways.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Regardless of how often Ivan Markovitch mentions the poor circumstances of Sasha's childhood or the temptations of youth, the Colonel insists he needs to face the courts. Admittedly, he does advance the further argument that Sasha shows no signs of reformation.
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  • Go and Sin No More: Ivan Markovitch manages to override the Colonel and talk the rest of the family into forgiving Sasha's offense and shielding him from the law, with the proviso that he goes into town with Ivan the next morning and finds a job. Unfortunately, as Ivan finds out, Sasha has no interest in reforming.
  • Heel Realization: Sasha hates the Colonel calling him a criminal, thinking that the term refers to someone a lot worse than he is. However, at the end, having blackmailed his uncle Ivan Markovitch into giving him money, he admits to himself for a fleeting moment that he is indeed a criminal.
  • Here We Go Again!: After his maternal uncle Ivan Markovitch has succeeded in convincing everyone to pay the fine and let Sasha's misdeed slide, the young man remembers one of his friends is having a party at a local pub. However, he has no money. He blackmails his uncle into lending him some by threatening to get himself in trouble with the law, demonstrating that nothing has really changed.
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  • Slave to PR: One of Sasha's uncles supports paying the fine, but unlike Ivan Markovitch, he puts forward no reasons except the ugliness of the scandal getting into the papers and becoming public knowledge.
  • What Is Evil?: As one of his last points, Ivan Markovitch calls into question whether criminal behavior can really be called such, because it implies free will and certain schools of thought think "free will" has no basis in reality. Instead, each person's faults arise because of his biology. This doesn't impress the Colonel.
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