The short story "After the Theater" by Anton Chekhov takes place in the bedroom of a sixteen-year-old girl named Nadya, who has just arrived home after attending a performance at the opera. She has been deeply moved by the love story, in which the man was indifferent but the woman was in love. She finds this "beautiful, touching, and poetical" and compares it to her own situation.
She has two suitors, an officer and a student, and does not love either of them. She writes a letter to the officer, first professing that she loves him and then feigning indifference to his love. As she writes, her pretend emotions move her to tears. She considers the officer and how he attempts to conceal his emotions but becomes passionate about music.
Her mental attention then turns to the student. She recalls him playing with a poodle on his last visit. She tears up the letter to the officer and decides to love the student instead. She contemplates summer, when both the officer and the student will come to visit her and walk in the garden in the evening. Her imagination gives her great joy, and she considers that everything is good and splendid. She hardly knows what to do with the "immense joy" she feels.
This story is so short it is almost a vignette. There is very little action, except in the mind of Nadya. Within this brief scene, though, Chekhov manages to touch on some significant themes.
One theme concerns how a great piece of art can touch people so profoundly. Nadya has just attended the opera, where she has been deeply moved by a story enacted in song on a stage. Everything that happens afterward, including the fake letter she writes, the scenes that she plays in her mind, and the great joy that she feels, is a result of the inspiration she receives from the work of art depicted in the theater.
The other theme concerns youth's lack of touch with reality. In her immaturity, Nadya imagines situations with her suitors that mimic the opera she has seen, but she has no idea about the rough edges of love and how it plays out in real life. Her joy exists only within her imagination, and it is inevitable that sooner or later she will be confronted with the harshness of the real world.