“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...
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