In the Morning
”Night” begins as Mamochka and her retarded adult son, Alexei, wake up in their communal Moscow apartment. Alexei wakes from fantastic dreams filled with dragons, dwarves, and mushrooms, but Mamochka’s rising is much more ordinary: she is occupied with replacing her false teeth, reattaching a hair piece, and clothing her stout frame. Alexei waits in his bed for his mother to “give the order” to get up and begin his day.
Mamochka guides Alexei through his morning ritual of teeth brushing, ear washing, and toilet flushing, coming in behind him to make sure he has not left a mess. In Alexei’s mind, getting through his morning rituals is similar to following a large map with the dangers clearly marked and with Mamochka as his “experienced pilot.” The dangers are the people in the apartment building he and his mother live in, but she helps guide him through these hazards. The neighbors have complained about Alexei and his odd behavior, so Mamochka must always take care that he does not upset any of them as they use the apartment’s shared bathroom and kitchen.
One dangerous person does nearly trip up Alexei’s otherwise smooth morning—the Sea Girl, as he calls her. The Sea Girl fascinates and excites Alexei, although he is clueless about sexual attraction and finds that women terrify him.’ ‘It isn’t clear what they’re here for, but they are very unsettling,” he thinks about women. The Sea Girl winks at him in the hallway, attracting Alexei’s attention, but Mamochka comes to the rescue, chastising the woman for going after “a sick man” and behaving like a “shameless hussy.”
After breakfast, Mamochka sets Alexei up at his work table in the apartment, where he glues cardboard boxes for a pharmacy. From this work his mother collects a bit of money. Mamochka putters around the apartment while he works, eventually falling asleep in her chair.
In the Afternoon and Early Evening
Alexei hates to part with the boxes he has made and angrily thinks about seeing people throw them in the trash after they leave the pharmacy. Once he found some of his boxes in the apartment house’s trash and began screaming, “Who dared do this? Come on out, why don’t you?” Mamochka arrived and calmed him down, but Alexei’s violent behavior frightened the apartment’s residents.
While Mamochka is asleep in her chair, Alexei decides to keep two of the boxes for himself, hiding them under his pillow. When she wakes up, they walk to the pharmacy to deliver his boxes, and he tries to delay the inevitable by dragging his feet. While they walk to the pharmacy, he imagines that “giant wheels” and “monstrous conveyer belts” control the waning day.
On this errand, Alexei sees an ice cream vendor and begs his mother for a treat. She says he must not have any because of his sore throat, but Alexei daydreams of when he might be able to use ‘ ‘those monies, like other Men and Women have, one of the silvery, shiny ones; or a little piece of paper that smells like bread.” When they reach Pushkin Square, Alexei tells his mother that he is going to become a writer.
Alexei remembers evenings when Mamochka has read a poem out loud to him. He enjoys this immensely, repeating the words in a slightly different format and mimicking the howling of the storm in the poem. He also remembers how, when he lies in bed at night, his body stretches and becomes huge, while the Alexei inside becomes smaller and vanishes.
In the Evening
In the evening, Mamochka dresses for bed and goes into the communal kitchen. Alexei waits for her but becomes impatient and sets out to find her. He walks into the hall and discovers that the Sea Girl’s front door is open, and there is money on a table inside. He grabs the money and races out of the apartment building and down the street, searching for an ice cream vendor.
Alexei runs down the street and becomes disoriented. He realizes that he has “someone else’s money” in his hands and begins to hear the people around him say that he has stolen money. “Hands point from every window, eyes shine, long red tongues stick out: ‘He took the money!’ Let out the dogs.” Alexei is frightened and throws the money away, and he soon realizes that he is lost and alone.
Alexei becomes “stifled” by his clothes and takes them off. He sees people in the dark and thinks they are wolves. When he sees some women, he runs after them, becoming a wolf himself and thinking, “I’ll pounce, we’ll see just what these Legs of yours are!” Men begin to beat Alexei, hitting him in the stomach and face until he is bleeding. He cries for his mother.
Mamochka appears, upset and crying, and takes Alexei back to their apartment. She cleans him up and fixes him some warm milk and a soft-boiled egg. Suddenly, Alexei cries out, ‘ ‘Mamochka, give me a paper and a pencil! Quick! I’m going to be a writer!” Mamochka finds paper and a pencil for Alexei, and he begins to write the story of everything he understands, the truth he believes he has experienced that evening on the streets. He “hurriedly writes the newly acquired truth in big letters: “Night. Night. Night. Night. Night. Night. Night. Night. Night. Night… “
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Tatyana Tolstaya, Published by Gale Cengage Learning.