What is the significance of the title "The Bear"?

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Hollis Sanders eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Popova is a widow who, in an attempt to remain faithful to her late husband's memory, has locked herself in her house for seven months and plans to continue to do so indefinitely. Her melancholy is interrupted by Smirnov, a man who insists that Popova's husband owed him money and will not leave the estate until the debt is squared.

The conversation slowly deteriorates into an argument about true love according to both of the sexes punctuated by the feud over the money. At the peak of the shouting match, Popova starts screaming insults at Smirnov, including calling him "a bear." Smirnov outrageously challenges the widow to a duel, which she even more outrageously accepts. Because Popova actually accepts the duel, Smirnov claims to have fallen in love with her.

The title is a reference to the insult that Popova deals Smirnov. It is in this moment that the absurdity of their dynamic reaches its peak. The comedy of the play is made rich by both characters pretending to be more than they are.

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Blaze Bergstrom eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the play, Anton Chekhov pokes fun at Russian social conventions of his day. One of the two main characters, Smirnov, tries to chart his own course and not adhere to the social niceties expected of the bourgeoisie.

His mission is to recoup some money owed to him by collecting it from the widow after her husband's death. Popova, the widow, has retreated from society since his death and initially refuses to consider Smirnov's demand when he comes to her home. Stunned at his effrontery, the widow accuses him of boorish behavior.

He continues to insist that he is behaving properly to her as a lady, but yelling while he does so. She, in turn, shouts "Bear!" at him over and over, as that's what he is acting like.

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