Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In a letter to a friend, writer Anton Chekhov wrote: “When I recall my childhood now, it appears to me dismal enough; I have no religion now. You know, when my two brothers and I formed a trio in the middle of the church and chanted the canticles . . . the members of the congregation were touched and they envied our parents, but at the same time we felt ourselves to be little convicts.” It appears from “Easter Eve,” however, that Chekhov genuinely loved the Easter ceremony and its impact on people. He re-creates the heightened and exuberant atmosphere of the eve of Easter. At the same time, the atmosphere is imbued with sorrow brought into the story by Ieronim’s tale and his mourning ritual (working the gibbet-like ferry between the two banks of the river), which create the mood of restlessness, anxiety, and mysticism. In describing this mood and in portraying Ieronim and his late friend, Nikolay, who had an extraordinary gift for writing canticles, Chekhov is more interested in the aesthetic and artistic aspect of the event and the characters than in the religious ones.

Speaking about his vocation, Chekhov wrote in another of his letters: “My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom.” In this story, his interest is mostly in human inspiration, imagination, and talent. They are like the rocket in the story that cleaves the darkness and lights up the human life. The narrator, who saved the picture painted by Ieronim’s tale by not seeing the body of Nikolay, brings the reader back to the peasant, for whom it was enough just to watch the illumination in order to feel the magnificence of the Easter night. For Chekhov, Nikolay was his fellow writer and Ieronim was a talented reader. Sorrow brought into the story by Ieronim’s suffering and the indifference of the monks in the monastery, who did not value Nikolay’s canticles and made Ieronim work the ferry on Easter night, becomes the important theme of the story.