What is the most important element of fiction in "The Darling"?
The most important element of fiction in Anton Chekov's "The Darling" is characterization. While as a character sketch, "The Darling" has strong elements of parodic humor in it that point to more important underlying elements of theme, it is through his characterization of Olga Semyonovena that these themes are developed.
One of the themes that the character of Olga develops is the limited role of women in Russian society. This theme is illustrated through Chekov's parodic humor as Olga is perceived as such a "darling" because she is so involved in the life of her first husband who owns a theatre, even to the point of reflecting his opinions. By others she is perceived as a "gentle, soft-hearted, compassionate girl." Whenever she hears anything that pleases her, she smiles and lady visitors cannot help taking her hand and exclaimining, "You darling!" Yet, she seems vapid as she "deeply mourns" her first husband, but three months later is married to another man, whose profession then becomes her new preoccupation. After all her husbands are gone, Olga has no identity and is then perceived as having "no opinions of any sort" for she has been totally dependent upon men for her being.
Other themes that Olga's character unfolds are the Nature of Love and Maternal Love. Olga's final acts as a woman are those of a mother to the abandoned son of her last husband, and she feels great fulfillment in this role, "surrendering her soul to the feelings." However, the boy, Sasha, feels smothered by Olga's devotion to him. He cries out in his sleep, "I'll give it to you! Get away! Shut up!"
Interestingly, the character of Olga Semoyonova has enough ambiguity to it that readers and critics alike have interpreted the characterization of Anton Chekov differently. For instance, Tolstoy, a contemporary of Chekov's lauded Olga's character as demonstrative of the fulfillment of woman as mother.