(Short Stories for Students)

Aliokhin is a successful farmer who runs a mill. He owns a large, plain house where he employs at least one servant. Aliokhin is described as tall, stout, long-haired, and around forty years old. When his friends Ivan and Bourkin arrive unannounced, he welcomes them gladly and stops working for the day to properly host his guests.

Bourkin is a friend of Ivan’s who accompanies him when they visit Aliokhin. Bourkin is a teacher who enjoys listening to Ivan tell stories, and he keeps Ivan from straying too far from the storyline. Bourkin is an even-tempered and mildmannered man.

Ivan Ivanich
Ivan Ivanich is the central character in ‘‘Gooseberries.’’ He is a veterinary surgeon who tells his friends Bourkin and Aliokhin a story about his younger brother, Nicholai.

Ivan is a cynical man who sees his brother as delusional, arrogant, and misguided. Ivan is unable to judge his brother’s decisions based on his brother’s happiness because he is too narrow-minded to understand a different way of life. Ivan’s inability to understand Nicholai leads Ivan to give Nicholai money in an effort to try to change his lifestyle; he seems to want to control what does not make sense to him. At the same time, he has an upright sense of justice and is saddened by the way Nicholai treats the elderly widow he marries for her money.

Because of his...

(The entire section is 523 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"Gooseberries" is a slow-moving, seemingly plotless story devoid of action. The conflict appears only in Ivan's mind, not in the story itself, and Burkin, Pavel, and even Ivan himself remain passive characters throughout the tale, as Ivan delivers his moralistic speech on the evils of land proprietorship. Chekhov's characters are often passive, introspective people who live quiet and discontented lives. Nikolai seemingly represents the Chekhovian character who appears to be self-centered yet is misunderstood by others, and Ivan seemingly represents the melancholy and desperate man searching for the meaning of true happiness.

Ivan is a veterinary surgeon, a medical man like Chekhov himself, and his brother Nikolai is a retired landowner. Nikolai is revealed to readers only through Ivan who tells the story of how Nikolai spent his life pursuing his dream of owning a country estate and growing gooseberries. Nikolai apparently grew up in the country but went to work in the city when his family had to sell their estate to pay their debts. But Nikolai never stopped longing for the country, and he invested all his time and energy and into making his dream of country life a reality.

According to Ivan, Nikolai's life has been a waste and his dream nothing but an escape from reality. Ivan believes that instead of retreating to the peace and quiet of the country, one should actively work for the betterment of society. To illustrate the error in Nikolai's ways, Ivan relates how his brother became stingy and selfish and how he married an elderly rich widow for money then deprived her of food and comfort. When the woman dies, Nikolai is able to buy three hundred acres of land and settle into the country life he always dreamed of.

It appears that Nikolai certainly is a selfish and miserly man who, unlike Tolstoy, and Chekhov during a large part of his life, has little concern for improving the lives of the peasants. Ivan tells how his brother treats the peasants badly and how he believes that most of them are not yet ready for education and that corporal punishment for these people is...

(The entire section is 862 words.)