Anton Chekov and Symbols of Love

Find the Symbolism of Love in Anton Chekhov

A statue in tribute to Anton Chekhov

A statue in tribute to Anton Chekhov

While considered a modern playwright, Anton Chekhov’s ill health and work in the medical profession eventually lent itself to portraying the ideas of romanticism in his work. Out of all playwrights known to mankind, Chekhov is the most misunderstood, used, and abused.

Every day horrific productions occur where amateur actors portray Chekhovian material as a melodrama void of any hope.  Chekhov himself often felt misunderstood by his peers and society, he thought himself to be funny, while others viewed him as dark.

Chekhov’s true artistry is rooted in the fact that Chekhov genuinely cared for the people, he was a man of his word, and therefore became a physician.  He said, “Medicine is my lawful wife, while literature is my mistress.”  Unfortunately, soon after he became a doctor, he began to show signs of tuberculosis.  Instead of sulking away to a far off land, he decided to ignore the symptoms, even as they worsened, and dedicate his life to work.

Despite his academic background, Chekhov was a man of passion and a warrior of emotion.  Much like the romantics, Chekhov was not afraid to present characters that relied on their instincts to guide them to a seeming moralistic decision.  Chekhov was especially generous in matters of love, perhaps because he led a somewhat lonely existence, choosing to live vicariously through his characters.

Many playwrights often write themselves as the protagonist, but it is especially clear the doctor, Astrov, in Uncle Vanya is none other than Chekhov himself.  Astrov is friends with the man of the household who is married to Yelena.  Yelena falls in love with the local doctor, as he falls in love with her, even though she is married.  Of course, it would be considered immoral to act upon these feelings.  However, the pair connects so much on a spiritual level that Yelena runs to him just as he’s about to leave forever and gives him the most romantic kiss ever known.

The audience isn’t booing at this injustice towards the betrayed husband, instead, they are lamenting over the forever lost love between the doctor and the married woman.  Chekhov used his depleting health as a yardstick for moral decisions, and in his writing he was able to express the innate desires of humanity.  This contradiction of moral righteousness is again thrown for a loop in the play, Ivanov.  The title character has an affair with a younger girl despite the fact that his wife is dying of tuberculosis.  While the infidelity  in and of itself is controversial, the fact that the wife whom Ivanov  cheats on has tuberculosis proves that Chekhov wasn’t lost in a world of unrequited lust and fantasy, but that he had perspective, and his moral compass applied to everyone, including himself.

Perhaps the most meaningful moral guidance derives from Masha’s conversation with the married lieutenant  Vershinin, in Three Sisters, “Any sort of unkindness is upsetting to me.”  It only takes a page for Masha and Vershinin to fall in love, despite the circumstances.  While Chekhov showed realistic situations, such as two people falling in love in the wrong place at the wrong time, it is the execution of those circumstances that make him a romantic.  The Chekhovian love affairs proved that love existed outside of any legal vow, and was indeed capable of being found in a world where people are lost.