This novel of 122 pages by Chekhov is very interesting and powerful.This Nobody, who is also the narrator of the story(Stepan) , belongs to a terrorist group and manages to get the job of a servant in the household of a government official's son(Orlov, also called Georgy Ivanych) , with a view to spy on the father.But the experience of staying in that house changes the mission of this young Nobody .Suddenly , he realizes the purposelessness of life and becomes disillusioned with his mission .He gives up his mission.
Orlov is fond of reading new books.He falls in love with a married woman , Zinaida Fyodorovna.She leaves her husband and moves into the house of Orlov.It is then that Orlov begins to avoid her , and goes on for long periods to stay with one of his male friends , just to escape her.Finally , Zinaida discovers the truth , and Stepan helps her to escape from St. Petersberg to Venice.
Zinaida becomes a cynic and tells Stepan that there is no difference between Stepan and Orlov.Both had deceived her and abandoned her in their own ways.Stepan does bring her to Paris but she sees no future for her.Stepan first thinks that it is due to her cynicism and despair , but later realizes that what she says has truth in it.
Zinaida gives birth to a baby of Orlov(Sonya) , and dies during child birth (perhaps by consuming poison.).Stepan returns with Sonya to St. Petersberg. Stepan realizes that he is not well , is old and is nearing his death .He goes to Orlov to discuss the future of Sonya.Orlov tells him to send Sonya to a boarding house , and also tells him to discuss things with the ex-husband of Zinaida.
Stepan realizes observes and experiences deceit, hypocrisy , illness and old age , and it changes his faith and his convictions in his mission .He realizes that very learned persons like Orlov could be mistaken in their beliefs, apparently honest persons like himself could actually be cheating others , resulting in his cynicism and purposelessness .There is only a sudden flash about one possible purpose of life: selfless love for another.