Give a marxist reading for Anton Chekhov's short story "An Upheaval."

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This Chekhov story offers an interesting Marxist reading that shows two sides. The story shows how Marxist theory of criticism is perfectly illustrated through Fedosya Vassilyevna's behavior. It also shows how Marxist theory is subverted by Nikolay Sergeitch's and Mashenka's behavior.

Some critical tenets of Marxist literary theory, according to Paul Ady, Ph.D., of Assumption College, are:

Base and Superstructure: The base is the economic structure that informs the development of cultural superstructure that embodies the principles springing from the economic base. The superstructure includes laws, philosophy and religion among other things.

Ideology: The shared beliefs and values that grow out of the superstructure of the economic base and that a culture (or cultural sub-set) collectively holds as meaningful and valuable.

Hegemony: This is the "web of ideologies" that encompass the total cultural collection of separate ideologies and that determine the look and feel of reality in that culture (or cultural sub-set).

Marxist theory of criticism is perfectly illustrated through Fedosya Vassilyevna's behavior: Fedosya behaves as one who has absolute human worth illustrating a philosophical superstructure that negates the humanity of others of lower, dependent economic classes while confirming that these others are exploitable and expendable commodities in a market exchange rather than individuals in a human encounter. This tenet is termed "reification" and defines the exploitable nature of the worker class. Fedosya exhibits this behavior to an extreme degree as she has subverted her husband's cultural authority and exploited him as well: he has no authority, no acknowledged voice and no will to exert even in an untenable situation.

Marxist theory of criticism is subverted by Nikolay Sergeitch's and Mashenka's behavior: Nikolay subverts Fedosya's exploitation (reification) by going to Mashenka and (1) apologizing in his and in his wife's names, (2) earnestly entreating Mashenka to stay and (3) confessing to having taken the brooch (his mother's heirloom) in order to attain some of his own money, which Fedosya keeps under her own exploitative control. Nikolay shows that his ideology, though based on the economic base of the time, deviates from the accepted ideology of the superstructure, while Fedosya's ideology accentuates the superstructure. Mashenka subverts the ideology, superstructure and economic base when she puts human worth and dignity above the demands of the economic base, the superstructure and the cultural ideology.

There is a striking contrast between Mashenka's hegemony and that of the Kushkin's. Though of the same culture, they are from different sub-sets. Therefore, while Mashenka's hegemony (web of ideologies) values humanity above economic exploitation because she is from a remote province, the Kushkin's hegemony values exploitation over humanity.