"A Problem"

Anton Chekhov

Johanna Whitwell, Olivia Bunn, Ashley Cox


    Sasha Uskov cashes a false promissory note at a bank that unfortunately puts his family name in jeopardy when the due date arrives. Sasha sits outside and listens while his three uncles - Ivan Markovitch, the Colonel, and the Treasury Official - are discussing whether or not to pay the note and clear his name or to let him face trial and discredit the Uskovs. Though the Colonel wants to leave Sasha to his lawful punishment, Ivan convinces him help pay for the debt. Ivan tells Sasha the good news while they are leaving, which causes Sasha to think about a party going on that night. He then forces Ivan to give him one hundred rubles, thus proving that he was, in fact, a criminal.

Plot diagram

A: Exposition

Sasha Uskov has cashed a false promissory note and put his three Uncles in a difficult situation. They are discussing what to do in the study, while Sasha sits on the ground outside and listens.

B: Rising action

One of his uncles, the Colonel, wishes to leave him to his fate, whereas Ivan Markovitch and his third uncle, the Treasury Official, both wish to cover up the case and pay off the fine quietly. Sasha becomes angrier by the minute when he listens to what they are saying about him and tells himself that he is not, and never has been, a criminal. Eventually, Ivan Markovitch appears in the hall and asks Sasha to come inside to make his case to the other uncles, but he is unable to be very persuasive with his words. After he goes back into the hall, the Colonel's wife comes to him and implores him to beg his uncles to help him, but he does not. Ivan brings good news, however, when the meeting finally finishes. Sasha's relatives will pay the sum, if he promises to repent and go to the country with Ivan to work. As they are leaving, Sasha remembers that there is a holiday party that night that he needs money for.

C: Climax

Sasha forces Ivan to give him one hundred rubles to pay for the party.

D: Falling action

Ivan gives Sasha the money because Sasha threatens him. Sasha walks away towards the party, happy once again.

E: Resolution

As Sasha walks away he realizes, "Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal."


The setting for the short story "A Problem" is a hallway outside of a study because the story says "he sat meekly in the hallway by the door leading to the study". Also, the setting later on in the story is outside because the story states "Glancing at the street lamps and the black sky, he remembered that Von Burst was celebrating his name day..." There is no temporal (time period) setting for the story.


The main characters in the short story "A Problem" are Sasha Uskov, The Colonel and Ivan Markovitch.

•  Sasha Uskov's character in the story was Round (Complex) and Dynamic because at the beginning of the story it stated that "Sasha was indifferent, and was only disturbed by one circumstance; the other side of the door calling him a scoundrel and a criminal" Also, the story said "Criminal" is a dreadful word - "that is what murders, thieves, robbers are; in fact, wicked and morally hopeless people. And Sasha was very far from being all that". At the end of the story, when Sasha received the one-hundred ruble note from Ivan, his character changed and he realized he was a criminal.

•  The Colonel's character in the story was Flat (Stock) and Static because throughout the story the Colonel states that instead of focusing on the family name being ruined, the uncles should just allow Sasha to go to trial. For example the Colonel says "Who says that family honor is a mere convention?  I don't say that at all. I am only warning you against a false view; I am pointing out the possibility of an unpardonable mistake. How can you fail to see it? I am not speaking Chinese; I am speaking Russian!". The Colonel does not change his views about Sasha until Ivan persuades him to allow Sasha to be forgiven.

•  Ivan Markovitch's character is also Flat (Stock) and Dynamic because during the story Ivan's character only changes once, at the end of the story. During the story Ivan is mainly focused on trying to persuade the other uncles to forgive Sasha and pay his IOU. For example, Ivan says "Shall we be false to civic duty," Ivan exclaimed passionately, "If instead of punishing an erring boy we hold out to him a helping hand?" At the end of the story, Ivan realizes that Sasha might be a criminal, because the story states "Petrified, muttering something incoherent in his horror, Ivan Markovitch took a hundred-ruble note out of his pocketbook and gave it to Sasha."


Sasha Uskov vs. Himself: Internal

Sasha argues with himself about whether or not he is a criminal. In the end, he realizes that it is true.

The Uskov Family vs. the False Promissory Note

The Uskov's have to decide whether to save the family name and pay off the note or to let Sasha be punished lawfully and put a stain on their reputation. Sasha's three uncles decide to protect the family and pay the note.


" A tiger can't change its stripes"

Sasha showed his true colors when he asked his uncle for more money at the end of the story. He will always be selfish and attempt to take and spend other people's money. His uncles wasted their time and money to trying to bail him out of his debt. He will never change if people keep giving him opportunities to avoid the consequences of his actions.


The tone is ironic because throughout the story the uncles are trying to choose whether to let Sasha go to trial or pay the IOU for him. Sasha does not care about what happens to him and is only troubled by his uncle calling him a criminal, which he does not believe is true. The story states "Sasha was indifferent, and was only disturbed by one circumstance; the other side of the door calling him a scoundrel and a criminal." When Sasha receives the news that the uncles will pay his IOU he is filled with joy and wants to party. Sasha forces his uncle to pay him a one-hundred ruble note which makes Sasha realize that he is a criminal because at the end the story Sasha says "Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal".


"A tiger can't change its stripes."

An image depicting the hallway Sasha was sitting in while his Uncle's were deciding what to do.

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