Survival in Anton Chekhov

Symbols of Survival in Chekov


Irina’s monologue in the beginning of Three Sisters symbolizes Anton Chekhov’s commitment to work. Using Irina as the vessel for these thoughts implies a naiveté in this process of thought.  Being the youngest, Irina is idealistic and still excited for the possibility of happiness-through work.

It is not uncommon to see this piece of text perceived as reflection rather than an epiphany.  It only works with the latter, Irina is the heart of Three Sisters and so it is only appropriate she speaks from her heart, with boisterous urgency.

When executed and analyzed correctly, Irina’s idealism is contagious.  Though “work” may be the Bain of existence for some people, for Masha, work gives her a place in a world which renders her almost entirely useless.  Choosing Irina to speak this text shows how Chekhov felt we must approach our own work; with a sense of discipline, wonder and awe.



Pragmatic as she comes to be in the peak of her appraisal, there is no doubt, her words come from a place of her honesty as a young woman, and Chekhov’s experience in the world,

“How right and good it is to be a workman who gets up before sunrise and breaks stones on the road, to be a shepherd, to be a teacher who teaches children, to be an engineer on the railroad…Dear God in Heaven, to say nothing of people, it’s better to be an ox, or a common ordinary horse-far better-so long as you go on working, than to be the kind of young woman who wakes up at twelve o’clock noon, then drinks her coffee in bed, then takes two hours getting dressed…”

Though Chekhov was both admired and criticized for his objectivity, he uses innocent Irina to articulate how he really feels:  It is better to be an ass than sit on one all day.  Chekhov was quoted as saying, “Write about the man who, drop by drop, squeezes the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes one day to find the blood of a real human being-not a slave coursing through his veins.”

Chekhov never stopped moving, and even in correspondence with his contemporaries recommended excursions and events meant to inspire and awaken the aesthetics of the world.  He always carried a notebook and a pen and kept objective observations close at hand.  Unlike some of his characters, Chekhov did not have time to waste, and when he did waste time, he felt as though he was wasted.