Because ‘‘A Problem’’ is one of Chekhov’s more obscure stories, little criticism specific to it remains in print. However, Chekhov’s short fiction in general is widely reviewed, and much is directly applicable to the story at hand. For instance, Writer contributor Bob Blaisdell notes that
“Chekhov showed . . . that short fiction could be about characters rather than events, and that stories did not need trick endings. An author did not have to be a puppet master or judge and jury; instead, the narrator was, in Chekhov’s view, an observer, quiet and deliberately objective, usually with an unstated but sympathetic moral point of view.”
Indeed, the bulk of the narrative of ‘‘A Problem’’ is a character study, one that allows Sasha’s actions and thoughts to speak for themselves. At no point in the story does the narrator judge the protagonist.
In his Neophilologus article, David W. Martin argues that Chekhov is one of the fathers of the modern short story. He finds that a hallmark of contemporary short fiction is that it ‘‘describes inner experience, not superficial activities or the logical sequence of events for their own sake.’’ Certainly, this statement applies to the entirety of ‘‘A Problem,’’ which is predominantly concerned with Sasha’s reflections on the question of his own criminality. Martin is not alone in his assessment. Studies in Short Fiction critic Brian Murray declares that Chekhov is ‘‘the writer who has most influenced the nature of contemporary American short fiction.’’ Murray then goes on to note,
“At his best Chekhov shows unusual subtlety and sophistication; his fiction is informed not only by his remarkably wide experience in the world, and by a wide variety of human types, but by a degree of empathy that is quite rare in its constancy and intensity.”
Offering more praise, Murray continues, ‘‘Chekhov was—or at least appeared to be— among the least self-absorbed of writers, and thus his prolific body of work is exceptionally rich and diverse.’’
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Anton Chekov, Published by Gale Group, 2001.