Study Guide

Tevye the Dairyman Shprintze

By Sholem Aleichem


  • Okay, maybe this one isn't all that happy either. Just keep that hanky nearby, is all we're saying.
  • How many daughters are we down to, anyway? According to this story, just three—and the oldest unmarried one is Shprintze.
  • But before Tevye gets to that story, he offers a little aside about the pogroms sweeping through Russia after the tsar gave up some of his powers and created a parliament in the Russian Constitution of 1906. Like basically every other political change, this did nothing good for the Jewish minority population. (Want to know some stuff about what that's all about? Check out Shmoop's "In a Nutshell" and "Setting" sections.)
  • Why does he bring this up? Well, this story kicks off when a bunch of rich families flee the pogrom and end up in Tevye's neck of the woods.
  • Right. So. Among the people who flee to Boiberik are a rich widow and her lazy, shiftless son, Ahronchik.
  • (Shmoopy brain snack: this dude's name is actually Arnold, but he's called Ahronchik like a little kid. You know, like "Arnie." In other words, he's really infantile, immature, and non-independent. Keep that in mind, because there is one person in the story who insists on calling him Arnold.)
  • Tevye delivers dairy for these people and even gets kind of chummy with the widow. When she complains about Ahronchik's useless lifestyle, Tevye takes it upon himself to talk to the guy.
  • Which, of course—bossy interference is Tevye's whole m.o., right there.
  • We don't get to hear Tevye's words (quick guess: lots of Biblical quotations, not too much substance), but Ahronchik seems into it enough to invite himself over to dinner at Tevye's house.
  • The household is all excited to be hosting this super-rich guy, and when Ahronchik shows up, he's only got eyes for Shprintze.
  • Uh-oh.
  • A little while later we get the big reveal, and consider us unsurprised: Ahronchik is in love with Shprintze and wants to marry her.
  • Ahronchik of course chooses the perfect moment to tell Tevye this: right after offering to trade horses, because that's totally the way to win over your prospective father-in-law.
  • Tevye thinks this is a horrible idea because they're from such totally different classes. It sounds way harsh when he says it, but he is mostly right on the money there. Ahronchik's been raised as a gentleman, and it's very obvious that his family is not going to be into this match.
  • Still, the dude is super-persuasive, says a lot of stuff about how he's a man and not a child and totally doesn't need his mom's permission or anything.
  • Shprintze confirms to her dad that she's into him (calling him Arnold and not Ahronchik in this convo), and Tevye agrees.
  • A few days later, the widow summons Tevye to her house. He's psyched, assuming they're about to formalize the engagement.
  • Yeah, not so much.
  • Tevye gets there and has a confrontation with Ahronchik's uncle, who basically accuses Tevye of luring Ahronchik to his house under false pretenses to get him to fall in love with Shprintze. Then the uncle offers a bribe if Tevye will agree not to tell anyone about it. And finally, of course, the uncle demands they break the engagement. Ugh.
  • Tevye is so floored by these nasty accusations that he just walks out and leaves.
  • At home, Shprintze takes the news like a champ. At least, she takes it quietly and hardly reacts at all.
  • Tevye chalks this up to her Tevye-like strength, but we're thinking it's more a sign of her becoming psychologically unraveled.
  • Sad to say, we turn out to be right. A little while later, Tevye hears a commotion at the pond, and when he gets there we find out… Shprintze has drowned herself.
  • Tevye leaves us with this lovely description that is not going to give us nightmares at all: when people drown, their eyes stay open.