Oysters

crab-frogAnton Chekhov wrote hundreds of short, humorous stories like this one to put himself through medical school. Interestingly, this is said to be the first story that he wrote after becoming a doctor. A young boy, who is so weak from hunger that he can barely stand up, sees a sign in a restaurant advertising oysters. He knows that oysters are some kind of seafood, but not what they look like. In his hunger-affected mind the boy imagines himself eating creatures half-way between a crab and a frog. He then pictures himself eating up everything around him, until he is suddenly brought back to earth when two rich “gentlemen” introduce him to real oysters.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Simplified English story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate level 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

There is also a word that is in our Pre-Intermediate word list but has a meaning in the story which is different to the one most commonly used. We are told that the restaurant is located in a house of three stories. Here the word means a group of rooms that form a floor level of a building.

General Comments on the Story

One of Chekhov’s strengths was the ability to create powerful descriptions of Russian life and social conditions in seemingly simple stories. Another was the ability to communicate the feelings of his characters. Common themes in Chekhov stories are class differences and the way the rich look down on the poor and often treat them badly.

A major theme of this story is the insensitivity of some rich people towards the needs of the poor. This is skillfully introduced though a moment of comedy. As the father finally works up his courage to say the words: “Help us, gentlemen! I am ashamed to ask but – my God! – I can bear no more!” the boy cries out “Oysters!” The two gentlemen genuinely believe that the boy and his father are crying out for oysters. They find this amusing, and entertain themselves by buying the boy an oyster meal and laughing as he eats it. They don’t give a second thought to the real situation of the father and son.

Another theme could be false pride. The once successful father, who is so vain that he tries to hide having no boots under his overshoes, is reduced to having to beg in the street. He has left this to the last possible moment, by which time his son is so weak from hunger that he can barely stand up. This has put the boy’s life at risk. When a man in the street stops after a touch on the arm, the father still does not have the courage to ask for money. At the end of the story, the father is angry with himself because he did not even ask one of the two gentlemen for money. If not false pride, Chekhov is painting a picture of a man who suffers from a major weakness of character. He is not prepared to stand up to the two gentlemen as they drag his son into the restaurant, and apparently does nothing as the people inside laugh at and make fun of the boy.

Either way, this leads a final theme: the unconditional love that most children have for their parents, irrespective of the way they are treated or the family’s situation in life. The boy clearly loves and admires his father, casting no blame on him for their difficult circumstances. When Chekhov was sixteen, his once successful father was declared bankrupt and forced to move to Moscow with the rest of his family. He did not take Chekhov with them, leaving the boy alone to support himself and face the people the family owed money to. One wonders if the father and son relationship in the story is a reflection of what Chekhov wished had happened in his own life.


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affect-effect(v: affect, affects, affected, affecting) To change or produce an effect on someone or something. The President's decisions could affect the lives of millions of people. 1000

amuse(n: amusement pl amusements) 1. The state or feeling of finding something funny. She watched with a smile of amusement. 2. Something [such as an activity] that entertains or gives pleasure to someone. He has several holiday amusements. 3000

beg(v: beg, begs, begged, begging) To ask (someone) in a very serious and emotional way to give you something such as food, money, etc., or to do something that you need or want very much.
(n: beggar pl beggars) A person who begs, often for a way of making a living. 2000

carriage(n: carriage pl carriages) 1. A horse-drawn vehicle with four wheels that is used to carry people. 2. [British] A separate section of a train. A railway carriage. 4000

claw(n: claw pl claws) 1. A sharp curved nail on the toe of an animal such as a cat or bird. 2. The foot of an animal or bird with curved nails. The owl held the mouse in its claw. 3. The pointed end of the leg of a crab etc. that is used for gripping things. 5000

crab(n: crab pl crabs) A sea animal that has a hard shell, eight legs, and two large claws. 4000

creature(n: creature pl creatures) A living being; an animal of any type, especially a non-human. 4000

delicious(adj: delicious) Having a very nice taste or smell. 6000

lightning(n: lightning, noncount) The flashes of light that you can see in the sky during a storm, usually followed by thunder (a deep rumbling sound). 6000

nasty(adj: nasty, nastier, nastiest) 1. Very unpleasant to see, smell, taste, etc. 2. Wicked; evil; very bad or unpleasant. 2000

oysters(n: oyster pl oysters) A type of shellfish that has a rough shell with two parts and can be eaten both cooked and uncooked; the type of shellfish from which you can get pearls. 7000

pain(n: pain pl pains) The physical feeling caused by sickness, injury, or mental or emotional hurt. He felt a sharp pain in his back. It caused him pain to talk about his wife's death.)
(adj: painful; painless) Causing pain. A painful injury.; Without pain. Painless childbirth. 2000

salt(n: salt, noncount) A natural white substance that is commonly used to flavor or preserve food; sodium chloride. The soup needs more salt.
(adj: salty, saltier, saltiest) Containing salt or having too much salt. A salty lake; salty food. 2000

shell(n: shell pl shells) 1. The hard outer covering of a shellfish, egg, nut, animal, insect, etc. 2. The hard outer structure of a building, car, airplane, etc. 3. A metal case filled with explosives and fired from a gun etc. 1000

shiver(v: shiver, shivers, shivered, shivering) To move back and forth or from side to side slightly because you are cold, afraid, etc. 5000

thunder(n: thunder, noncount) The loud, deep rumbling sound that follows a flash of lightning during a storm. (ฟ้าร้อง)
(v: thunder, thunders, thundered, thundering) To make a very loud, deep noise. (ส่งเสียงดังคล้ายเสียงฟ้าร้อง) 3000

(n: story pl stories) 1. A description of real or imaginary events. A news story. A story-book. (เรื่องราว) 2. A lie that someone tells. Don't tell stories! (การพูดปด) 3. A group of rooms or an area that forms a floor level of a building. She lives on the second floor of a five-story building. (ชั้นของอาคาร) 1000

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