Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Enemies” reflects Anton Chekhov’s view of life as essentially ironic. Much of what happens to human beings, Chekhov believes, lies beyond their control. For example, Aboguin arrives on Kirolov’s doorstep at the worst possible moment, when the doctor is exhausted and overcome by his own personal grief. As Aboguin comments, it is hard to know whether this unfortunate juxtaposition of events, the boy’s death and the woman’s apparent illness, should be ascribed to coincidence or to the workings of fate. When the two men discover the truth about Aboguin’s wife, the situation becomes even more ironic. One is not surprised that more than one person in an area is gravely ill at the same time; however, the wife and her lover must have planned their flight well in advance. Given all the times when she could feign her attack and send her husband for a doctor, it is almost uncanny that she chooses this particular night to do so. No wonder Kirolov speculates that it all may be a cosmic joke at his expense.

From attributing the unhappy conjunction of events to fate, however, Kirolov proceeds to place the blame on Aboguin. As Chekhov points out, in doing so, he commits an unjust act, motivated by prejudice. As a doctor himself, certainly Chekhov was aware of the fact that men of his profession, although considered gentlemen, were socially and economically inferior to the landed aristocrats who ruled czarist Russia. Aboguin, however, treats Kirolov with...

(The entire section is 535 words.)