Dancing on Byelikov's Grave

The other day I was reading the Wall Street Journal, and there was a column by Daniel Henninger entitled, "Obama's Dour Vision." The Subtitle was, "How much change do we really need?" What came to mind was a short story by Chekhov, "The Man in a Case," where in the teacher, a Greek master named Byelikov, manages to repress the natural energies of an entire village. His policy was containment, and when he died, the people danced in the streets.

Belikov always wears a coat and hat and carries his umbrella. His umbrella is in a case, his watch is in a case, and his knife is in a case. His policy is containment. No good can come of change.

“The only things that were clear to his mind were government circulars, and newspaper articles in which something was forbidden.” When any new club or shop was licensed he’d say, “It’s all right of course, it’s all very nice, but I hope it won’t lead to anything.” When he died there was a spontaneous celebration and dancing in the streets. He was finally put into his case and buried.

And that’s what we’ve got going on right now: Byelikov’s funeral. We’re dancing in the streets because, as the story says, “One must confess that to bury people like Byelikov is a great pleasure.”

Let us have our celebration. We know the story: “... not more than a week had passed before life went on as in the past, as gloomy, oppressive, and senseless -- a life not forbidden by government prohibition, but not fully permitted, either: it was no better. And indeed, though we had buried Byelikov, how many such men in cases were left, how many more of them there will be!”

We know the story and we know that the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal will contain it.

Posted: Tue - November 11, 2008 at 12:18 PM