Uncle Vanya Themes

Themes

Anger and Hatred
Recognizing that he has wasted his life furthering the professor’s scholarship, Vanya responds in anger, a new and unaccustomed emotion for him. Although Vanya’s displeasure simmers throughout the play, it erupts into violence after Serebryakov announces his plan to sell the estate so that he and Yelena can buy a villa in Finland. Vanya then attempts to shoot the professor, only to miss, emphasizing the futility of his rebellion. Vanya’s full name, Voynitsky, hints at his potential for belligerence (the Russian word for ‘‘war’’ is ‘‘voyna’’).

Appearances and Reality
Vanya rails against Serebryakov’s intellectual posturing, knowing that the professors’s claims of intelligence are a fraud. ‘‘You were to us a creature of the highest order and your articles we knew by heart,’’ says Vanya. ‘‘But now my eyes are open! I see everything! You write about art, but you understand nothing of art! All your works, that I used to love, are not worth a brass penny! You fooled us!’’ Although some of Vanya’s charges have merit, Chekhov’s message is more complex. Serebryakov is not as bad and false as Vanya makes him out to be, but he is a self-absorbed, sick old man who has come to fear Vanya and his outbursts of indignation.

Choices and Consequences
Vanya’s mother, Maria Vasilyevna, chides her son for railing against his fate, when he’s taken so few steps to change the course of his life. ‘‘It looks as if you are challenging your former convictions,’’ she says to Vanya. ‘‘But they are not guilty, it’s you are guilty. You keep forgetting that a conviction in itself is nothing, it’s a dead letter. . . . You should have been doing something.’’ Serebryakov echoes the same sentiments when he departs, saying, ‘‘One must, ladies and gentlemen, do something.’’ Although his remarks are ironic given his own barren efforts, they also contain some element of truth.

Deception
Vanya claims that he has been deceived by Serebryakov, but Chekhov also suggests that Vanya has deceived himself. After all, if Vanya has read the professor’s articles for twenty-five years, why does it take him so long to notice that the professor’s scholarship is empty and the man is ‘‘a soap bubble’’? In many scenes, Vanya deceives himself. When Vanya exhorts Yelena to have an affair, he is, in part, motivated by self interest. He says, ‘‘Faithfulness like this is false from beginning to end; it has a fine sound but no logic.’’ One could argue that the case Vanya makes for adultery is equally suspect.

Duty and Responsibility
Work is one of the major themes of Uncle Vanya. Vanya, Sonya, and Astrov all complain that Yelena’s idleness has infected them, luring them from their responsibilities to loaf with her. When Sonya suggests that Yelena work, she responds: ‘‘It is only in sociological novels they teach and cure sick peasants, and how can I suddenly for no reason go to curing and teaching them?’’ Sonya...

(The entire section is 1283 words.)