The story takes place in what we presume to be the 1900s and begins with an Ivan Tchervyakov inside of an opera house. He is currently the only character known to the reader. Ivan is at an opera show with all of his co-workers.
All is going well until Ivan sneezes on a higher rank than he on accident. Immediately he tries to apologize only to find out the apology isn't being accepted but ignored.
Time after time Ivan tries to apologize to the general but only ends up being ignored again and again. He thinks of writing a letter to express his remorse but decides to just try again in person the text day
Ivan finally works up the courage to go to the general again and explain his complete remorse and apologize for everything. When he gets there, the general immediately notices him and screams at him, telling him to get out.
Ivan is crushed. He decides to walk home while slowly falling into a depression. He takes the long walk home trying to figure out what he had done wrong.
When Ivan gets home, he realizes his wife isn't home yet and knows he has nobody to talk to. He lays on his bed, fully depressed now, and peacefully dies.