What is Chekov's attitude toward Olenka in the short story "The Darling"?

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This short story by Anton Chekov is brilliant in its ambiguous presentation of Olenka as a character. Scholars, therefore, are not entirely certain of Chekov’s attitude towards Olenka. With her character, was he criticizing 19th century Russian women who had no identity apart from their husbands? Was his portrayal of Olenka full of irony and thus a critique of the 19th century Russian society that forced women to become such non-entities, mere extensions of their husbands? Or, was he presenting Olenka as a character that transcended the role that society tried to force upon her while she still maintained her loving motherly heart?

What do you think?

In class discussions that I have had over the years with my students, I have observed that people interpret Olenka’s character with their own biases. Some of my female students especially react rather strongly to Olenka. Some have pitied her. Others, with a more feminist ideal, have become angry with her for being such a sponge and not forming ideas of her own, living a life of her own. Some students perceive her as a survivor, doing her best to adapt to her new husbands and to become the best wife she could be.

In the end, Anton Chekov’s attitude is not as important as the attitudes of the readers. That is what makes this such a timeless story.

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