Saturday, July 02, 2011

Who is Afraid of Anton Chekhov

Who is afraid of Anton Chekhov?

A Critical Approach to “The peg”

By Mustafa Mudathir


“It's curious that we can't possibly tell what exactly will be considered great and important,
and what will seem paltry and ridiculous.Did not the discoveries of Copernicus or Columbus, let
us say, seem useless and ridiculous at first, while the nonsensical writings of some wiseacre
seemed true?” Anton Chekhov.

“The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do” Walter Bagehot.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus Christ.

End of Introduction


Dhakar Namil- An adolescent boy. Typical of the poor, mischievous black residents
of old Omdurman.
Mamoun- A boy. Represents the prevalent class and culture. Being able, even if as
a last resort, to restore the status qou of peace and calm.
Kaltoum- A featureless one of them. Her house is a focus of confused (or else delayed)
intentions. Thanks to her popular beverage! A must be in the Town of the Tired!
Elkhair- Look at the name! Probably a hard-working guy. But he must have his drinks
After a long working day, to pat on a vague sense of arrogance run down his spine.

The Plot:

An adolescent (Dhakar Namil) conjures up a vengeful act on the man (Elkhair) who, apparently,
has won the heart of the woman (Kaltoum) who the adolescent is,silently,in love (with).
The plan works well to draw the attention of the woman to the …new male in the block!
Such a plan and other unheard of manoeuvres and designs were typical of this part of
Omdurman of the sixties..and early seventies (just to include the presumptuous!)
The energy for these schemes derived mainly from the movies. Cinema was rampant
in those decades.
Shawgi lays out the setting for his story in a brilliant way that points to a certain geographical
spot with interesting description. The reader soon fits into a place with landmarks that breed
in his mind the expectation of tension.
We have a short story where we are not astronauts in the weightlessness of space.
We feel and smell the ‘red’ dust of Omdurman. And the scorching sun on a Friday.
In his plan to annoy and discomfort almost everyone, Dhakar Namil skillfully manipulates the compromising,
restorative tendency in his adversary..or rather his prey...Mamoun and thus obtains from him the tool of
mass discomfort—the peg!
Towards the end of the story which climaxes in a mad stampeding horse, Shawgi cleverly engages the reader
in the details of the havoc wreaked by the horse. He shows us,in detail, how a means of livelihood, a source
of a 'privileged' life in poverty is destroyed by the whim of a kid. But he also means, by this detailing of
the destruction of the cart machine, to divert our attention from the other machine—the peg!
Another skill in short story writing!
The closing paragraph is pure cinema with the self-pleased super-adolescent being
super-imposed on chaos. A cigarette between his fingers and and his eyes sending loving looks to Kaltoum
Now we know why he asked for only one piastre from the money he shared with Mamoun!!
And then...
There are those bold allusions to class distinction! The pigeons and the weka! You get the whole deal!

I remember having a discussion with a friend I found immersed into writing a critical essay on a
short story, any short story for a Sudanese paper. He was doing one of Anton Chekhov’s.
I pulled Shawgi Badri’s book and said: Here, why don’t you try one of these? We may have our own Chekhov!
He fell into deep silence. Probably trying to think what the editor would say!

Read 'The Peg" below this article or here:
Read The Peg and other stories for free, here:
Stories of Anton Chekhov
The Complete Short Novels
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories


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