“The Bear” is a very vaudeville play, and so it hides serious issues in slapstick humor. This play does address topical concerns like death, responsibility and wealth, gender issues, and most importantly, the meaning of love.
Clearly the first aspect of the play is the widow’s reaction to the death of her husband. She says that as long as he is in his grave, she has “buried [herself] between four walls.” She apparently promised him that she would be devoted only to him and his memory, and has interpreted this as meaning she should not leave the house or have visitors. Her footman Luka tries to get her to see differently, reminding her that his wife died as well.
You've mourned him--and quite right. But you can't go on weeping and wearing mourning for ever.
The second issue the play concerns is responsibility. Elena is still alive, and she has a responsibility to pay her debts and live her life. Smirnov’s reaction when she says she can’t pay him is partly justified. She should have known who her husband would owe and taken care of his affairs.
In many ways, Elena epitomizes the loyal wife. She refuses to live her life now that her husband is dead.
You know that when Nicolai Mihailovitch died, life lost all its meaning for me.
If Elena had died, would her husband have stayed in the house out of devotion to her memory? Not likely, since by Elena’s own admission he was “often unfair to me, cruel, and... and even unfaithful.” Yet she still loves him, and still respects his memory.
This brings us to the final social theme: the real meaning of love. Smirnov and Elena have an argument about whether or not a woman can love. She claims she is devoted, but he says a woman cannot love “anybody except a lapdog” and when she loves she can’t do anything “but snivel and slobber.”
I used to love, to suffer, to sigh at the moon, to get sour, to thaw, to freeze.... I used to love passionately, madly, every blessed way, devil take me…
Although he scoffs at love, he falls for those dimples. In the end, they agree that they love each other.