His earliest play, untitled by Chekhov but commonly referred to as Platonov , is a long and rambling work, full of dramatic stereotypes and heightened, exaggerated scenes, with little of the flavor of his later works. His next full-length play, Ivanov , was staged and was a popular success, but Chekhov was not satisfied with it, for good reason. Life on the stage should be as it really is and the people, too, should be as they are and not stilted.
Chekhov would need a new kind of drama to embody such perceptions, and he was not successful at creating it until His first attempt at a new drama, The Wood Demon, first performed in , failed so badly that Chekhov turned away from drama for six years. During this time, he achieved fame for his fiction. As fame brought more money and therefore allowed him more time to work on each piece, he wrote longer and longer pieces, and so was gradually led back to full-length drama. Ultimately, Chekhov found a way to fulfill his dream of capturing real life on the stage by rejecting the dramatic conventions of his time.
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Chekhov prevents the audience from being distracted by activity, focusing attention on the inner lives of his characters. These inner lives are often both painful and ridiculous. It has long been a difficulty for critics that Chekhov called The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard comedies and insisted that they were not tragic.
In truth, many of the characters in his plays are absurd: Their concerns are ridiculous, and the detached observer must confess that they are silly. Some of their dreams are absurd, but they do not know how to help themselves, and so their lives pass them by without teaching them how to live. They were very close, but Chekhov was not interested in marriage, and Lika turned her attention to another man, I.
Potapenko, a married friend of Chekhov. The episode no doubt disturbed Chekhov, and there is some indication that he felt a degree of guilt in the matter. Nina, a central character in the play and the only one who finds an answer for her life, is based on Lika, whose true experience provides the central theme of The Seagull. The play opens at the country estate of Sorin, a retired justice.
The play features Nina, whom Trepliov loves. Medvedenko loves Masha and wants to marry her, but Masha feels nothing for him and loves Trepliov instead. In turn, Trepliov cares nothing for Masha and focuses all his dreams on Nina.
Trepliov wants very much to impress his mother with the play, but she interrupts it several times with her comments. Chekhov would certainly sympathize, however, with the most prevalent problem in the play: unrequited love. Trepliov yearns for the love of his mother but does not receive it, Nina becomes enamored of Trigorin and ends up running off to meet him in Moscow, and Arkadina also wants the love of Trigorin but must settle for dominance over him: He loves no one. And what a quantity of love about! But what can I do, my child?
Trepliov sees that he has lost his mother to Trigorin and that he is losing Nina as well. He is wrought up enough to kill a seagull and present it to Nina, telling her that he will soon kill himself as well. She loves the lake as a seagull does. Nina understands nothing of the implications of the speech and, by the end of act 3, the affair is arranged. Trepliov, true to his word, shoots himself but suffers only a grazed head.
In act 4, which opens two years later, Trigorin and Arkadina return to visit Sorin, who is ill. In the two-year interval, Masha has married Medvedenko in an attempt to put Trepliov out of her mind, and they now have a child but essentially nothing has changed: Medvedenko still spends all his time worrying, either about his daughter or about money, and Masha, still yearning for Trepliov, is cruel to her husband and has virtually abandoned her child. Trepliov has succeeded in publishing but has found no contentment. Nina, after running away with Trigorin, became pregnant.
He abandoned her, she lost her child, and her acting career is floundering. While the rest of the company go to a late supper, Nina comes on the scene, drawn by the news that Arkadina and Trigorin have returned. She converses with Trepliov, and clearly he still loves her. Of all the characters in the play, only Nina has changed. With the final realization that she is gone from his life and that his mother has no need of him, he has no use for himself, and he goes offstage and shoots himself.
The rest of the characters, playing cards as they hear the shot, send Dorn out to investigate. They accept his explanation that the noise was just a bottle of ether exploding; as the curtain falls, Dorn takes Trigorin aside to give him the news of the shooting and to tell him to take Arkadina back to the city lest she find out.
Thus the audience hears of the shooting as the card game continues, and really nothing is changed. The play ends on the same note on which it began. Trepliov, too, has spent his time mourning rather than living, and if his death brings about no change, that is not surprising, for his death is no different from his life.
Uncle Vanya (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) by SparkNotes
Change can be seen only in Nina, who has learned not to fear life, and who works toward a future goal with faith and dedication. The exact date of composition of Uncle Vanya is unknown, but it is known that it had been performed for some time in rural theaters before it was performed by the Moscow Art Theater. In fact, though Chekhov claimed that it was a totally new play, acts 2 and 3 are taken almost completely from his earlier failure, The Wood Demon. Both Serebryakov and Yelena have a hand in the crisis. Vanya and Sonya have devoted their lives to managing the estate, saving and scrimping to send every spare ruble to Serebryakov, thinking him talented, even brilliant.
When he arrives on the estate, however, he is seen to be another sort of man. He suffers from gout, is perpetually in a bad mood, thinks of no one but himself, and disturbs the routine of the estate, staying up late at night writing and then not rising until late in the day. Vanya believes he has lost his life and has worked for the last twenty-five years for nothing.
More disturbing yet is the presence of Yelena, for she is young, beautiful, and idle. She draws the attention of all who see her. Vanya falls in love with her, and his love is made more painful by his jealousy of Serebryakov. Astrov, hardworking and idealistic, has been a friend of the family for years and has paid monthly visits to the estate; his work as a doctor and his efforts to preserve the ecology of the region have exhausted him, and while his intelligence is still sharp, he complains that his feelings have become deadened, leaving him incapable of love.
Sonya, a good-hearted, hardworking, but plain woman, has been cherishing a love for Astrov for some time, and it is agony for her to see him attracted to Yelena instead. The crisis comes to a head when Serebryakov calls a family meeting, expresses his discontent with life on the estate, and presents his plan to sell the estate so that he can live more comfortably.
He gives up in disgust, and the third act ends. In act 4, Serebryakov and Yelena return to the city, where they will be mailed money by Vanya and Sonya.
In short, things return to their original state, except that illusions have been stripped away. Vanya knows that his efforts have been wasted, and Sonya knows that her love for Astrov has been in vain. Though Uncle Vanya features a dearth of plot, a droll tone, and ambivalent characters, it was immensely popular with the Russian people, who saw themselves depicted onstage.
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Doctors appreciated Astrov, and city dwellers saw their hard work and suffering in Sonya and Vanya. The earliest critical reviews were a bit mixed, but the reception improved dramatically over time.
When the play was staged in English in the early 20th century, its fundamental universality became apparent. Uncle Vanya has seen dozens of stage revivals, operas, and film renditions both in Russia and throughout the rest of the Western world. Uncle Vanya study guide contains a biography of Anton Chekhov, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. Read more from the Study Guide. Browse all BookRags Study Guides.
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