On occasion, Chekhov’s “Enemies” has been published in English as “Two Tragedies.” This alternate title is appropriate in that the story begins with one tragedy and ends with another, which, although less dramatic than the first, shapes the course of two lives.
Chekhov uses the natural setting to symbolize the progress of his tragic human story. The child’s death occurs in September, the time of year when, as Chekhov later says, the world seems to be sunk in apathy, waiting for winter. The story is pervaded by darkness. The child’s death occurs on a dark night; Aboguin appears out of the darkness, waits in a dark hall, and then, with Kirolov, goes out into the dark, cloudy night, which is brightened only by the stars and the moon. The fact that the moon is veiled in clouds suggests that the light may well vanish; its red color indicates a possibility of warmth or, alternatively, of blood. The only sound that the men hear is the cry of the rooks, the night birds often associated with death, which seems to reflect their own sorrows.
At first, Aboguin’s pleasant home seems like a sanctuary. Even here, however, there are echoes of the natural setting, suggesting that human beings cannot barricade themselves from grief. The hall and the drawing room are half in darkness; the red lampshade recalls the red moon. When Aboguin returns, it is evident that darkness and misery have invaded this house as well. After the final tragedy has occurred and the men have become enemies, Chekhov again uses nature to symbolize the state of their lives. Now the stars are shrouded in clouds, and the moon has completely vanished. Unfortunately, the two men in the story are too obsessed with themselves and their grievances to notice that the pervasive darkness in nature reflects the condition of their own hearts.