A MALEFACTOR is a short , rather a very short story by Anton Chekov.
Denis Grigoryev , an “ exceedingly lean little peasant in a striped hempen shirt and patched drawers” is presented before a magistrate to stand trial. His crime is that one railway watchman Ivan Semyonovitch Akinfov has seen him engaged in removing a fastening nut from the railway line. The description given by Chekov of Denis is of a poor man , hardly of presentable bearing who occasionally removes nuts from a railway line to cast them into weight used in a fishing line. The poor peasant is innocent to the point of admitting the ‘crime’ unmindful of the consequences and the reader is amused to go through the Q & A sequence between the accused and the Magistrate. In common jurisprudence, the admission of a crime by an accused is ground enough to order his punishment under the Law of the Land , without requiring any detailed procedure to be followed but in this case the justice appears to be incomplete. After a brief summary proceedings Denis is sent to prison as a punishment, though there are other accomplices as well named by him. Thus no argument or plea made by him prevails.
Even to a layman, the removal of a nut from a railway line which may result in accidents happening and the death of many innocent passengers , is a crime that should not go unpunished. During the course of trial, the accused Denis refers to “We people…….The Klimovo peasants , that is” , which shows that besides him many others are engaged in the same criminal activities . Ends of justice would be fully met only if they are also hauled up and are made to face the consequences. Besides,all those who use the weights so made out of the nuts are also equally answerable as they are not ignorant as to from where the iron for making them comes from. The story , which probably is the depiction of a real life incident raises many questions and reflects upon the Justice system prevailing at the time.
‘Justice should not only be done but should also appear to have been done’ is the message put forth by the story.