The theme of The Bear is that life is meant to be lived.
The play is a farce in one act. Life, after all, is funny! Elena, a wealthy widow, lives alone because she wants to honor her memory. She has only Luka, her aged footman. She has vowed to neither leave the house nor accept visitors.
I shall never go out.... Why should I? My life is already at an end. He is in his grave, and I have buried myself between four walls.... We are both dead.
Luka strongly disagrees. He thinks that his mistress should leave the house, or at least have neighbors over. Mourning this way is not living, he insists.
You've forgotten all your neighbours. You don't go anywhere, and you see nobody. We live, so to speak, like spiders, and never see the light.
Then a brusque visitor, Smirnov, arrives who will not take no for an answer when he is told she will not receive visitors. He insists that her late husband owes him money, and he will stay until it is paid up. At first he is polite, but when she says she has to wait for the money to arrive he gets blusteringly angry.
Smirnov’s presence turns out to be just what Elena needs. He is just rude enough to get her attention, and his insistence that women cannot love annoys her.
Men are faithful and constant in love! What an idea!
In the end, Smirnov gets so frustrated with her that he challenges her to a duel—even though she’s a woman—and then he realizes he has fallen in love with her.
Although the play is full of silliness and slapstick, there is a serious theme here. Chekhov is reminding us that life is for living. When Elena finally lets Smirnov in, she comes to life. She admits that the husband she is being so faitful to was not even faithful to her. He left her nothing, not even the money, because the money was hers!