It took me at least a day to figure out which character to write about. Probably like most readers it occurred to me right away that Sasha Uskov was the more interesting one. The problem is explaining why. I tried thinking of him in terms of the “school of Lombroso”, but that didn’t work because there are no physical descriptions of Sasha that fit the theory. And Ivan Markovich’s apology is based on Sasha’s upbringing and temperament. Finally I realized that of the two, Sasha is the one whose actual thoughts we can read. Chekhov only gives us the others’ talk, and implies what they think, but doesn’t say so within quote marks like he does with Sasha.
Sasha’s thoughts reveal his character in flashes. When you read them along with the rest of the story, it’s not hard to conclude that Sasha is becoming seriously damaged goods:
1) If Siberia, then let it be Siberia, damn it all!
2) What have I done wrong besides?
3) No, it doesn’t mean that I am a criminal . . And it’s not in my character to bring myself to commit a crime. I am soft, emotional. . . . When I have the money I help the poor. . . .
4) I am going! [to the tavern]
5) Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal. But you don’t know that he’s a criminal at first. I gave Sasha the benefit of the doubt until thought #2. That’s when it becomes clear that he is making excuses for himself without admitting it to himself or even knowing there is anything to admit. That’s his problem: he can’t see the truth so he embraces his own lie. He’s quite not a criminal yet but he probably will be soon. Ivan, the Colonel, and his wife can’t stop him. With his hundred rubles in hand, it’s a good bet he won’t be giving it to the poor.