I have tried to slowly delve into the classics of literature which I was too intimidated to read before. Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of those authors whose works are plainly daunting for me. So, I am easing myself into the writing style by reading his short stories. I have read An Honest Thief before now I have read The Heavenly Christmas Tree.
The Heavenly Christmas Tree is a story that focuses on a poor boy during harsh cold and the celebratory time of Christmas. The story begins with the author accepting that he made this story up, but somewhere in some town or city, this might have been true. The boy is around six years; he is sitting in the corner of a cellar. It is terribly cold, and his mother is sick, he tries to wake her up, but she doesn’t. He is afraid of the darkness in the cellar, and since his mother is not waking up, he ventures outside. He runs outside, where the streets and buildings are decorated in red and green lights, and it’s a sight he has never witnessed before.
As the boy journeys outside, he sees a series of events, that makes him feel lonely. The boy lonely, scared, and shivering in the cold, hides behind a stack of piled wood. Slowly, he sees a beautiful Christmas tree in front of him, and young kids of his age are around him and giving him attention. It is told to him that Christ always has a Christmas tree for those who don’t have their own. It’s the first time the boy feels some warmth and happiness. The next morning, a porter finds a dead body of a young boy.
The boy is scared, lonely, and cold. The way the cellar is described, it gives a complete idea of the living conditions. When the boy runs out of the cellar into the road, he starts noticing how drastically different things are here. There is a stark contrast between the privileged and the underprivileged. It’s sad to see that the stores and homesteads he visits on the way are places where he is not welcome. The clear disparity in the living condition and even negligence of the underprivileged in portrayed with sensitivity and subtlety. The boy is so young, just six, yet there is a sense of hopelessness in him already. I also feel this is the reason, the author has purposely left him nameless because no one cares.
Another thing I noticed is the theme of Death. At the start of the story, the boy’s mother is most likely dead, even if he doesn’t realize it. The atmosphere around her death is dark and grey with cold and loneliness. When the boy dies, he feels warmth and happiness. These things sadly he never felt when he was alive. For him, death is an escape from the harsh reality and struggle that, he faces in his daily life. There is a constant reminder in the story that how cold it is, and the boy is shivering all the time. After his death, the first feeling for him is a sense of heat and warmth spreading through him which he couldn’t find in the world alive.
The story is fast-paced, and the writing is complex with its themes. Although, language-wise, it is not very difficult to read as I thought it might be. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Heavenly Christmas Tree is a story that is heart-breaking and subtly but staunchly talks about the difference between the rich and the poor. It’s a beautiful story that deals with social issues sensitively.
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