Themes

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Last Updated on March 5, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

Human Connection

When the Bishop sees his mother again after so many years, he is upset that she seems to feel "constrained" in his presence; she is, evidently, not sure whether to treat him as her son or a bishop. She is torn somewhere between treating him familiarly and formally,...

(The entire section contains 915 words.)

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Human Connection

When the Bishop sees his mother again after so many years, he is upset that she seems to feel "constrained" in his presence; she is, evidently, not sure whether to treat him as her son or a bishop. She is torn somewhere between treating him familiarly and formally, and though her voice is affectionate, he is bothered by her lack of demonstrative maternal feeling toward him. He feels he does not recognize her with "that respectfulness, that timid expression of face" that she now shows him. In fact, when he recalls being out of town, visiting another bishop, he remembers that he'd felt "Everyone was timid in his presence," even priests. He felt, then, that "not one person had spoken to him genuinely, simply, as to a human being," and now his mother's behavior toward him reminds him of this as well.

The Struggles of Adulthood

When the Bishop remembers his childhood, he thinks of it in such a positive way, as something that was truly precious, and it is "always fondly remembered." He remembers his hometown of Lesopolye and many of the people there, and even though he recalls people's faults as well, he is quick to remember their kindnesses. He recalls a religious festival and the joy he felt when he was possessed of "naive faith, with a naive smile" and was "infinitely happy." Now, as an adult, the Bishop feels that he is at an emotional distance from others, being somewhat isolated by his position within the church. His body deteriorates, and he becomes ill. He has a hard time turning off his brain and has to try to stop thinking at times. Adulthood is much more fraught than childhood ever was.

Maternal Love

He fondly recalls how "tender and sympathetic" his mother had been to him in his youth, and he seems to long for this tenderness and sympathy now. He is most bothered that his mother treats him so formally. He feels "'oppresse[d]'" by his position of authority and wishes, especially in his final illness, to be taken care of. Ultimately, she does call him her "'darling son'" and her "'own,'" just as he has determined that he will be "free [...] as a bird" in death. Though Bishop Pyotr is an accomplished and highly respected public figure, his continued desire for maternal affection suggests that humans naturally crave parental affection. In the tradition of the Christian church, both God and priests are referred to as "father," and are viewed as paternal figures. The bishop, who has an even higher station than a priest, is therefore cast as a paternal figure to his own mother, undermining the traditional relationship between parent and child. In becoming an envoy of God, the Bishop has become a spiritual father to his community, thus estranging himself from ever being regarded as a child in need of care.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

“The Bishop,” Chekhov’s penultimate short story, is the tragedy of a member of the intelligentsia whose pursuit of a highly successful clerical career cuts him off from genuine human intercourse. Not until he faces death does the bishop realize that something important is missing from his life—namely, a love and respect for himself, not for his rank. His existential feeling of loneliness and isolation is evidenced by his thoughts: “If only there were one person to whom I could have talked, have opened my heart.”

The bishop has two identities: a private one associated with Pavlushka, the name from his youth, and a public one associated with his present name, Bishop Pyotr. He has been unable, however, to defend this private identity against the forces of his career. His mother’s nearness during the last week of his life (after a nine-year separation for which he must share the blame) has made him painfully aware of the lack of genuine love and closeness in his life. Even his mother addresses him with the formal “you” and “Your Holiness.”

Now that he is dying, he wishes to return to the simple existence of his youth (clearly a Tolstoyan idea). His metamorphosis occurs both physically and spiritually. He imagines that he has become thinner, shorter, and more insignificant than anyone (the Latin root of Pavlushka means “little”). The bishop and his mother agree, whereupon his mother kisses him, calling him Pavlushka and “darling son.” Then, during his final, more spiritual, thoughts, he imagines himself a simple, ordinary man, walking cheerfully through the fields under a sky bathed in sunshine, free as a bird to go anywhere he likes. His awakening before death enables him to die peacefully, thinking “How good!”

The author notes that the bishop died and was forgotten, yet this conclusion is not despairing, for the story suggests that a simple, genuine existence guided by love and respect is far more important than rank and fame. Throughout the text, an analogy is drawn between Bishop Pyotr and Christ. This likeness rightfully stops with the quiet death of the bishop. The point is, the bishop is not Christ and need not be remembered. He is only a link in a continuous chain created by Christ. Before he dies, the bishop perceives this continuity and is happy that he is part of it. His faith assures him of the Resurrection promised by the one whose own Resurrection is celebrated the day after the bishop dies. The pealing of church bells that the bishop so enjoyed on Easter morning is testimony to the perseverance of his spirit.

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