The Theme of Perception in "Gooseberries"
Anton Chekhov is regarded as a master of the short story for his innovative structural techniques and his treatment of important themes. In ‘‘Gooseberries,’’ Chekhov demonstrates both by using a specific structure to help convey a theme. ‘‘Gooseberries’’ contains a story within a story; the main character relates a tale about his brother to two of his friends. Some authors employ this technique to make the inner story more interesting, to create distance between the reader and the inner story, or to allow the story to be told by a certain kind of narrator. In ‘‘Gooseberries,’’ however, Chekhov takes the reader into the framing story, then into the inner story. When he returns the reader to the framing story, the reader better understands the narrator of the inner story. As a result of this insight, the reader is able to grasp Chekhov’s theme of perception more clearly, because the character of Ivan has been presented in two different ways.
Ivan tells the story of his younger brother, Nicholai. A government employee, Nicholai longed to buy a farm and move to the country. After years of planning, saving, and taking advantage of others, he has realized his dream. Having settled into farm life, he has become fat, lazy, and arrogant, but is happy above all. He is living exactly the life he dreamed of living. Ivan is judgmental of his brother and characterizes him as wasteful, self-centered, and delusional. He disapproves of both the means and the end of his brother’s life in the country. Although Nicholai is certainly flawed and grossly mistreats a wealthy widow, he is not completely bad. Ivan perceives his brother from his own narrow point of view, however, and as a result he sees everything about his brother as disgraceful. Ivan’s harshest criticism of his brother, however, has to do with his willingness to be deluded.
Ivan sees Nicholai’s happiness as warped, because he is happy without regard for the rest of the world. He chooses a life of inactivity, giving no thought to doing any good in the world. While Ivan is visiting Nicholai, they are served a plate of gooseberries, plucked from Nicholai’s own bushes. The gooseberry bushes were a central feature of Nicholai’s dream, and so the moment when he will taste the berries is much anticipated. To Nicholai, the romantic dreamer, the berries are delicious, but to Ivan, the hardened realist, they are tough and sour. This is a clear example of the contrasting perspectives of the two men. Ivan thinks his brother is incredibly foolish to surrender so fully to his dream that he begins to substitute fantasy for reality.
While Nicholai is an obsessive dreamer, Ivan is a harsh cynic, and while Nicholai substitutes fantasy for reality, Ivan substitutes reality for fantasy. Ivan sees things in absolute terms and is unable to see beyond his brother’s flaws to his virtues. He is never happy for his brother, who has...
(The entire section is 1195 words.)