Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Anton Chekhov, considered by most students of Russian literature to be the foremost Russian writer of short stories, often uses exaggeration to point out a human foible. Olenka’s total inability to think, speak, and form opinions of her own is rarely, if ever, met in this world, but there is a kernel of truth in this caricature. Chekhov wishes to poke fun at people who rely on others to form opinions instead of forming their own, people who prefer to follow the crowd rather than question and probe. In a number of stories, the author uses the same technique with different types of examples to make the same point—too many people are prisoners of conformity and prefer to eschew critical thinking. Olenka’s complete lack of self-worth is evident as she goes through life repeating the opinions of other people, even a ten-year-old schoolboy.
The theme of love is also present in this story. The reader can find a pattern in Chekhov’s stories that concern love, a pattern that may reflect the skeptical and world-weary author’s own feelings about the subject. Love rarely works out to the satisfaction of the parties involved. Love is usually illusory. Either the love is not reciprocated, or two people who love each other are not aware of the other’s love through a lack of communication, or two people marry and become unhappy. In this story love seems to be successful, but fate intervenes to remove the two husbands and one lover. Olenka does not live...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
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The Role of Women in Society
Critics have interpreted the tone of the story as an indication that Chekhov was lampooning the limited role of women in nineteenth-century Russian society as nothing more than an appendage to men, with no thoughts or opinions of their own. Soon after the publication of ‘‘The Darling,’’ however, contemporary writer Tolstoy made the argument that while Chekhov set out to ‘‘sacrifice’’ the character of Olga as a typically vapid woman, he inadvertently blesses her in her ultimate role as mother. Tolstoy’s view was based on his opinion that women serve no greater role in society than that of loving mother, and that women’s highest virtue is their capacity for love. Critics continue to debate the narrative perspective of ‘‘The Darling’’ and Olga’s character: Is she an object of ridicule, pity, or admiration? The fact that these questions continue to provide critics with material for speculation and debate, even one hundred years after its initial publication, is a testament to Chekhov’s skillful sense of ambiguity in the telling of this story.
The Nature of Love
Chekhov’s story develops a character, Olga Semyonovna, who thrives on love and withers away without love. The story, however, questions the nature of such a love, which is born more of dependency and personal emptiness than of a true sympathy of souls. Olga is largely indiscriminate in her...
(The entire section is 746 words.)