Thwarted Love in Anton Chekhov’s Literature

Born in 1860, Anton Chekhov wrote extensively on the complexities of human nature and the hidden importance of how day-to-day interactions impacts human life (Kirk 43-56). He is famously known for such stories as “The Steppe”, “The Lady with the Dog”, “The Seagull”,” A living Chattel”, and” Uncle Vanya”. Even after his death in 1904, Chekhov’s works still contributes considerably to the genre of short stories. According to him, love is one of the most significant factors impacting and altering our lives. Chekhov; therefore, manages to explore different aspects of love as a theme in many of his stories as he writes expressing everyday encounters with love.

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Chekhov describes his characters with admiration at the same time posing their contradictory nature and how hard it is to maintain composure when love is not what we had envisioned for ourselves. Chekhov uses a mature writing style that encompasses a complex plot assisted by the development of relatable characters. In A Living Chattel”, “The Kiss”, and “About Love”, Chekhov effectively uses his characters, plot, suspense, and irony to illustrate the concept of complicated love and how it relates naturally to our emotional stability. Through his characters, he demonstrates an analogy of how sophisticated and devastating love can be, and how different people might have different emotions because of this cognitive-emotive complex that critically depends on society.

Almost all stories by Chekhov fetch the reader’s attention from their start to end because they are most commonly punctuated by suspense and an intriguing dialogue; love, and irony. In “The Kiss, the writer is keen on illustrating the presence of love or the false illusion of love and how it can powerfully change our reality. Ryabovitch, A modest and tongue-tied soldier finds himself in a dark room during a rowdy party. A woman erroneously kisses him only to realize it was the wrong man. Although, he understood the kiss was never meant for him, his imagination becomes simulated and he begins to examine the degrees of his potential as a suitor. As indicated by Ryabovitch, the void created by lack of companionship can cause a person to thirst for inclusion regardless of their reservations. Ryabovitch’s feelings are expressed clearly in the following quote:

The most ill at ease of them all was Ryabovitch — a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx. While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and spectacles seemed to say: ‘I am the shyest, most modest, and most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade! (Chekhov, The Kiss)

The passage illustrates that Ryabovitch was not sure of himself and the feeling he had for the woman who kissed him. Other people seemed to be expressing their feelings outright, but he never had the courage to do so. The fear of being rejected prevented him from taking the chance. As a character, Chekhov portrays him as a loner and naïve to matters of the heart as well as being very vulnerable.

“The Kiss’, just like many other short stories by Chekhov, follows a similar theme where a flawed character is staged for existential disappointment. The protagonist is not able to manage his desires and he is even powerless to alter his situation. The reader is then introduced to a form of troubled love that the protagonist cannot fix for himself. Thus, the story captures the reader’s attention in examining human desires for something greater in their lives; in this case love. Chekhov, in this short story and the other two stories is keen on linking real life experiences with his narrations. For instance, Ryabovich desire to better his conditions are very comparable to what we all develop, where we act upon opportunities as well as creating new ones where none existed (Jarvis 94-97). However, even with the desire to change the stories of our lives, the writer turns the reader’s expectations into disappointment when Ryabovich fails to change the direction of his life. According to Chekhov, love is complex, and it may make people strong, weaker, or both. In such a case, Ryabovich at first becomes stronger but ultimately loses to his emotions of troubled love; he is then exposed as vulnerable, and unable to control the destiny of his life.

Besides love as a theme, the writer carefully incorporates thought-provoking characters and an evocative setting that supports the plot and structure of his stories. Chekhov boasts of using plot effectively and artistically to create successful fictional stories. In “The Kiss”, events are arranged perfectly. It uses a captivating twists, commendable characters, and a subject of love that every reader can relate to. The writer closes his story with a rather intriguing ending, the protagonist returns to his ordinary life and resumes as if nothing of great value has happened, but what really transpires is Ryabovich just embraced the reality of his life. The plot is so relatable that the reader craves more. The story evokes emotions as the reader seems to care more about what happens to the protagonist. The value of Chekhov’s writings lies mainly on his exceptional use of plot and characters whom he uses as individuals and not types. He qualifies this by not taking sides and instead remaining objective and avoiding being judgmental by always be deliberate.

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In “A Living Chattel”, Chekhov divides the story into three parts with each part intriguing the reader with a multifaceted development in the plot that follows the lives of the different characters and their ensuing love triangle. The story opens with a scene that tells about Liza and Groholsky’s secret relationship whereby the two are thinking about the future of their secret relationship. Again, Chekhov uses his plot careful to narrate through the story of a miserable marriage and the theme of troubled love. The complexity of love he manages to depict in “The Kiss” is also extended to “A Living Chattel”. Chekhov using marriage, to illustrate and present the difficulties connected with the hunt for and preserving of love (Purves 14). Common to his other stories, “A Living Chattel”, commonly run a similar plot of irony, character development, suspense, and emotions.

For instance, it is ironical how Liza’s lover confronts her and implores her to leave her husband by telling him of their affair. Her lover says; “I love you, and a man in love is not fond of sharing” (Chekhov, A Living Chattel). He is not suppose to mutter these words as he know Liza is married: “It is too much for me to go shares with your husband. I mentally tear him to pieces, when I remember that he loves you too” (Chekhov, “A Living Chattel”). However, Liza refuses to do so because she feels betrayed by the request. The plot feels very real after following the writer’s life experience; maybe he writes the story from his experience by indicating that everyone loves to be the ‘main flick.’ Therefore, the writer seemingly supports the idea of having someone all to themselves. The story links closely with Chekhov’s other story, “About Love”, which is based on a missed chance of expressing love because the involved individuals are tied by marriage and are reserved in their actions. Unlike in the “A Living Chattel” where Groholsky expresses his love for Liza even when he knew she was married; troubled love is clearly depicted when the two-part ways at the very end.

Another important theme touched in the novel is the motif of money, which has always been accompanying love. Even the title of the story indicates a certain deal that can be expected by readers. In such a way, from the very first pages, the elevated idea of a beautiful feeling is associated with business and money. Chekhov in his ironical and sarcastic manner, depicts Liza as a very attractive and precious woman that is worth paying money for her. In such a way, she transforms into a good that can be either sold or bought: “What would you like? I have money, my father is an influential man. … Will you? Come, how much do you want?” (Chekhov, “A Living Chattel”). During specific negotiations, Liza is estimated at “fifty thousand” and then “hundred thousand” as she is worthy of this giant sum (Chekhov, “A Living Chattel”). It means that the deal is made, and parties seem satisfied with its result.

However, the inability to buy a true feeling and measure love with money becomes clear for readers as no one is happy. Instead, the main characters form a love triangle and continue to suffer because of their conscience, doubts, and hesitations. Chekhov perfectly shows the complexity and sophistication of passion and relations as people cannot understand what they want and the real motifs of their actions. At the same time, “A Living Chattel” shows that one cannot buy happiness or solve all problems using his advantageous financial position. In such a way, the story contributes to the improved understanding of the love theme and provides another perspective on this very topic.

“About Love” shows that each love story is different. The story confirms that love is a mystery because it lacks a simple definition.

“This is a great mystery. Everything else that has been written or said “About Love” is not a conclusion, but only a statement of questions which have remained unanswered. The explanation which would seem to fit one case does not apply in a dozen others, and the very best thing, to my mind, would be to explain every situation individually without attempting to generalize. We ought, as the doctors say, to individualize each case.” (Chekhov, “About Love”)

For that reason, love is self-motivated, and every story of love is unique. The four characters in this story find themselves in dissimilar situations as they all face distinctive challenges. Like in the other stories, Chekhov twists love by comparing the story of Nikanor and Pelageya and Alyohin and Anna. By picking such characters, the writer wants to compare the life of a common and celebrated man. Alyohin then presents a true picture of how the man behaves. Many people hide their feelings by not showing their love to the other people (Tennov 78). The plot of this story is very applicable; it supports the collective nature of Chekhov’s writings that touches on human nature and factors impacting daily lives of people (Juan 35). In simple terms, love is portrayed as a complex part of human existence; everyone seems to be motivated to love although the love that each individual feels is unique to their particular situations.

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Moreover, “On Love” shows that true feeling is always accompanied by hesitations, doubt, and fears, but, at the same time, it can be altruistic. The main characters, Anna Aleskeyevna and Dmitry Luganovich, love each other, and their feeling is mutual as they want to be with each other. However, Chekhov demonstrates that the given emotion can be complex because of the sophisticated social background that impacts relationships between individuals and limits their freedom to act. From this perspective, the community becomes one of the major factors affecting people in love and preconditioning their choices. They care not only about themselves but think about individuals who surround them:

I loved her tenderly, deeply, but I reflected and kept asking myself what our love could lead to if we had not the strength to fight against it. It seemed to be incredible that my gentle, sad love could all at once coarsely break up the even tenor of the life of her husband, her children, and all the household in which I was so loved and trusted. (Chekhov, “On Love”)

Readers see that the main character suffers because of the inability to destroy another family that already has some traditions and cause pain to people who are close to him. In this manner, Chekhov emphasizes the idea that love can be destructive as it can have adverse effects on society, and people who have this feeling. It also presupposes that people should be able to control their emotions to avoid doing harm to other persons who can be occasional victims of true love. The main characters have to move away from each other and never meet again to protect their families and members of society from their devastating feeling.

Pavel Konstantinovitch’s trail of thoughts about how love destroys his internal self, and whether the feelings are spoken of or not, connects to Chekhov’s understanding of the power of love purposed to create equivalence in a world that represents good morals. For example, Chekhov writes “About Love” as Pavel Konstantinovitch bids Anna Alexyevna his last goodbyes as she moves to another province:

I confessed my love for her, and with burning pain in my heart I realized how unnecessary, how petty, and how deceptive all that had hindered us from loving was. I understood that when you love, you must either, in your reasonings about that love, start from what is highest, from what is more important than happiness or unhappiness, sin or virtue in their accepted meaning, or you must not reason at all. (Chekhov, About Love)

This description is typical of Chekhov’s style of faulty parallelism in the fiction piece. The strong alliteration of love reinforces the theme not only in a way that positive results are endured but artistically to paint what most souls presumably go through.

Skillfully, Chekhov repetitively leaves the reader in suspense in all his stories, an aspect that allows one to reimagine what could be the possibility of events. This bolsters his famous quote that “In short stories, it is better to say not enough than to say too much, because, because–I don’t know why” (Ratliff 112). This as seen in many of his literary pieces that leaves the reader wondering about the unclear future that readers would be left discussing and wish an event happened once more. In one piece, the author acknowledges the positive influences of practicing morality while on the other shows what is inherently millennial. The characters in the narratives appear to be entitled, and without a second thought consider only their happiness. Liza for instance makes Groholsky and Bugrov swim in a state of confusion their whole life. This impacts Mishtuka, the son, but as the narrator expresses her insanities, she keeps shifting from one man to the other. However, even though the story was written years back, it highly befits the current society. The millennials are so unwilling to take responsibility for their unhappiness instead of filling it with the stylized syntax displayed by the narrator. On the contrary, society is so full of love and compassion which once again showcases the art of applying parallelism in Chekhov’s work.

Love or precisely, complicated love, is the most striking theme of all Chekhov’s plays and short stories. As argued by Ronald (43) preoccupations, work, and love are the central focuses that Chekhov’s uses to develop his characters and their futile aspirations and regrets. Thus, understanding love in his literary work is not easy because many of the lovers in the stories appear to be in love for its sake. They at most fumble in the dark with a limited realization of its meaning thus placing more weight on its physical part. The central integration of moral and intellectual features of love in many of his characters is not obvious. Starting with Ryabovitch in The Kiss, Groholsky in A living Chattel, to Nikanor and Pelageya and Alyohin and Anna in About Love, all the characters are faced with challenges of fulfilling their dreams that could lead to a satisfying life.

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Apart from the three pieces discussed, other literary works such as The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters, and others are punctuated by clear instances of troubled love; either in marriages or not. Since Chekhov is realist, he wants the general reader to feel what exactly happens in the real world. He means to be true to what happens; the fears that people have in spelling out their feelings, the challenges of affection in instances of the married persons, and challenges involved in distance relationships. The writer’s plot almost follows a similar flow of troubled love, realistic experiences, and characters. Furthermore, his point of view is very clear; he is relating to society at large, as well as his own life experiences, with his writings as a way of deviating from the factious feeling created by stories from other playwrights who imaginatively base their narratives.

In A Living Chattel, The Kiss, and About Love Chekhov uses his characters, plot, and stylistic devices to elaborate the concept of love as it relates to human relationships. How very much like snowflakes, each situation is unique to itself. His characters chiefly show how intense and diverse love can be and for that reason, love seems is a complex affair and often times people fail to adequately express and fuel the relationship so that it may grow and flourish the soul. The love mirrored in the three stories complement the real nature of the human sensual feelings and how humans fails to explore fully the potentials of their desires. Chekhov realized these points through such characters as Ryabovitch in The Kiss, Groholsky in A Chattel, and Pelegeya and Alyohin in About Love.

Interestingly, almost all things in life revolve around the issue of love and for this reason; Chekhov selected a topic that relates to all the kinds of readers. To him, love is not cheap to express and maintain as it may seem. For example, many of his married characters seem to fail in upholding their love thus looking for solace elsewhere. Others who are not married seem blinded by their feelings towards the married. The common nature of cheating wives and husbands in the world today is clearly depicted here since the sanctuary of marriage was not created to last an eternity. Chekhov, therefore, develops the characters in all aspects of life, making them intriguing and creating a perfect image of how they could look like ironically. The three stories A Living Chattel, The Kiss, and About Love are well written, showing the consequences of how our decisions effect the outcome of our relationships. Sometimes we are in control and other times we are not. It’s a love potion, ready available for the risk takers who can coop with the outcomes; love has many flavors and strengths, and the outcome is never the same twice! Love can be many feelings, choose wisely and deliberately.

Works Cited

Chekhov, Anton P. “Short Stories: The Kiss by Anton Chekhov.” Eastoftheweb.com, 2018. Web.

Chekhov, Anton P. “On Love” Home.Ku. Edu.Tr, 2018. Web.

Chekhov, Anton P. Anton Chekhov’s Selected Stories: Texts of the Stories, Comparison of Translations, Life and Letters, Criticism. WW Norton, 2014.

Chekhov, Anton. “A Living Chattel.” Www.Ibiblio.Org, 2019. Web.

Hingley, Ronald. ‘Introduction’, Anton Chekhov Five Plays. New York, Oxford University Press, 1998. Web.

Hingley, Ronald. ‘Introduction’, Anton Chekhov Five Plays. New York, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Jarvis, Peter. Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Human Learning. Routledge, 2012. Web.

Juan, Zhao. “A Comparison of Tennessee Williams and Anton Chekhov.” Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 1, no. 3, 2010, pp. 35-36.

Kirk, Irina. Anton Chekhov. Twayne Publishers, 1981.

Purves, Mark Richard. “Marriage in the short stories of Chekhov.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, vol. 16, no. 3, 2014, pp. 9-10. Web.

Ratliff, Ron. “Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey. (Literature).” Library Journal. 2001, p. 92. Gale Academic OneFile, Web.

Ratliff, R. “Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey.” Gale Academic OneFile, vol. 1, no. 1, 2001, pp. 92-93. Web.

Tennov, Dorothy. Love and Limerence: The experience of being in Love. Scarborough House, 1998.

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