Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“Gooseberries” is one of a number of stories in which Anton Chekhov views the human penchant for voluntarily limiting one’s life. In some cases the reason is fear, in others an inclination toward laziness. The author contrasts the two landowners, Alekhin and Nikolai Ivanich; the former is energetic, while the latter is almost inert. Although it is presumed that Alekhin labors to improve his estate, Nikolai Ivanich is content to leave things as they are and pretend that he has found the ideal for his youthful dreams. In a sense, life has become static for Nikolai Ivanich, who apparently sees no need for change in his life or in the lives of others. He is satisfied but has not fulfilled his potential, and the reader comes to view Nikolai Ivanich’s happiness as pathetic.
Nikolai Ivanich’s brother, Ivan Ivanich, is particularly incensed at his insensitivity as Nikolai pursues his own level of happiness and cares naught about the happiness of others. This story is one of the very few occasions on which Chekhov takes a stand on social questions of the time, such as education of the peasants and the brutality of the upper classes toward the lower. Chekhov was criticized for his lack of social consciousness and, in this story, six years before his death, he declares himself to be on the liberal side of issues, at least within a Russian context.
In the early 1890’s, Chekhov came under the influence of Leo Tolstoy, the famed Russian novelist...
(The entire section is 454 words.)
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The story of Nicholai is one of single-minded determination. In Nicholai’s case, he acquires the subject of his obsession, a small farm that allows him to lead a simple life in the country. Ivan comments, ‘‘Once a man gets a fixed idea, there’s nothing to be done.’’ Nicholai equates the lifestyle he longs for with the farm setting, and an important part of that setting is gooseberry bushes. He finds the gooseberry bushes a source of delicious fruit that is his own, yet he can enjoy it without exerting much effort to nurture the bushes. When he buys his farm, it does not have all the features he had always dreamed it would have, but the gooseberry bushes are so important that he buys twenty of them and plants them on his land. His obsession runs so deep that to achieve it he married an elderly widow who had money and then kept her underfed (to save money) until she died.
Having achieved his dream, Nicholai finds other benefits of his lifestyle that he did not anticipate, and these become new objects of his preoccupation. He finds that he is more educated and more wealthy than the local peasants, and he relishes his new feelings of superiority. He treats the locals to a feast on his birthday and occasionally gives them vodka. Because of his new ‘‘standing,’’ he expects to be called ‘‘Your Lordship,’’ and he spouts condescending opinions about the peasants. Ivan observes, ‘‘Nicholai Ivanich,...
(The entire section is 712 words.)