What is the theme of the story "The Darling" by Anton Chekhov?

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lnorton | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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Anton Chekhov's "The Darling" has several overarching themes, all centering in some way on love. The Darling's capacity for love and her need for love can be viewed as desperate, shallow, or even silly -- all characteristics that reflect in some way her society's view of a woman's place, her worth, and her duty.

The seemingly random choice of her love-objects hints that the Darling is more infatuated with the idea of love than the actual person for whom she declares her affection; love fills her up and gives her a purpose. This can be seen both negatively and positively. Love gives her life and encourages her to share her kindness and good nature. Her caring is motherly, whether it is expressed toward a husband, a lover, or a child, and in that way she can be seen as an ideal woman (in Chekhov's time) -- she fully commits herself to others. On the other hand, her need for love and her apparent willingness to attach to anyone show us that she cannot stand on her own. She has no opinions or purpose without a man to direct her -- even her young ward shapes her personality and makes her feel secure in a way she cannot achieve on her own. This is a weakness, and it is in her relationship with the boy that we can see some of the negative effects of her love. When he cries out at the end of the story, we realize that Olga's love can be smothering, and her need to be completely fulfilled by her love-objects places a terrible burden upon them.


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