What is the symbolism in, The Proposal by Anton Chekhov?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most of the symbolism in Anton Chekhov's The Proposal, also known as A Marriage Proposal , consists on the very things that make Lomov, Natalia (his intended fiancee) and Stepan (her father) fight amongst themselves. They are symbols because they represent something unique to each character, and because their significance serves as a catalyst to the plot.

The first symbol is the Oxen Meadows. This is an important symbol because it represents the power of Stepan, as Natalia's father, over Lomov, as her future husband. In the typical fashion of Chekhov's time, the man is the primary provider of the home. Stepan and Lomov have had an issue with the ownership of these lands and this comes up in the middle of his marriage proposal to Natalia, when he offers them as part of his deal. The meaning of owning the land is huge because it implies power. When Natalia argues that those lands are hers and Stepan's anyway the power struggle is quite thick.

The second symbol are Otkatai and Ugadi, which are the hunting dogs of each family. The hunting dog, which is the eternal companion of the true gentleman is meant to represent the class and pedigree of the owner. To insult that dog would be to insult the owner. When Natalia and Lomov argue over which dog is more powerful they are actually butting heads again about the importance of one family over the other.

Finally, there is the proposal itself, as a symbol of social and financial networking rather than a symbol of love. Natalia, who is past her marriageable years (she is 25), needs to be married quick. Lomov, who is also older and extremely quirky (he is a hypochondriac) needs to be married as men do when they come to property and can maintain a family. However, theirs is a very flawed proposal that forebodes an even more flawed future marriage. It is the stuff that comedy is made of, and it is certainly a symbol of more distress than communion as the title of the play suggests.