Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Ukraine

*Ukraine. Russian province (now an independent country) that borders the north coast of the Black Sea. The relationship between Vanya and Professor Serebriakóv mirrors the relationship between provincial Ukraine and Russia. During Chekhov’s lifetime and well into the twentieth century, Russia exploited Ukraine’s rich agricultural and natural resources to feed and fuel other regions and provinces. Similarly, Professor Serebriakóv exploits the labor of Vanya and Sónya in order to maintain his life and career in Moscow.

Serebriakóv farm

Serebriakóv farm. Farm in Ukraine from which Serebriakóv derives the wealth on which he has built his social position in Moscow. Chekhov provides an increasingly intimate portrait of the Serebriakóv family and the forces that begin to erode the relationships between family members as each act penetrates deeper into the family’s history and deeper into the interior of the farm. A crisis between Vanya and the professor divides the household. In the play’s second act, Yelena says that there is “something terribly wrong going on in this house.” As tensions grow stronger among the characters, the farm becomes a microcosm of society in general. “You know perfectly well it’s not crime and criminals that are destroying the world,” Yelena explains to Vanya in the second act. “It’s petty little emotions like envy . . . that end up with good people hating one another.”

Garden

Garden. Garden adjacent to the farmhouse and just off the veranda. Gardens, and natural settings in general, are common elements in Chekhov’s drama as symbols of the order and beauty of the natural world, providing contrasts to the chaotic lives of his characters. The garden in the play’s first act sets the changing lives of the Serebriakóv family against the passive uniformity of nature and suggests an imbalance among family members. Sonya’s defense of Ástrov’s passion for reforestation emphasizes this imbalance when she explains that people who live in lush natural settings “spend less energy trying to combat nature, so the people themselves are kinder and gentler.”

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

In 1861, one year after Chekhov was born, Czar Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia. Serfs were essentially slaves and were forced to...

(The entire section is 668 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Revision
One way to understand the construction of Uncle Vanya is to contrast it with its earlier incarnation,...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1897: Marxist Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov is exiled to Siberia for three years for smuggling illegal literature from Europe into...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

It has been suggested that Astrov’s initial conversation with the nurse acts as an overture to the play, hinting at the important issues...

(The entire section is 335 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

In 1994, Louis Malle directed a film version of Uncle Vanya, entitled Vanya on 42nd Street. The film takes an usual approach...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The Three Sisters, a Chekhov play first produced at the Moscow Art Theater in 1901, is the story of a wealthy Russian family who...

(The entire section is 191 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Sources
Bentley, Eric. ‘‘Craftsmanship in Uncle Vanya’’ in Critical Essays on Anton Chekhov,...

(The entire section is 298 words.)

Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bentley, Eric. “Craftsmanship in Uncle Vanya.” In Anton Chekhov’s Plays, translated and edited by Eugene K. Bristow. New York: Norton, 1977. Bentley shows that Chekhov’s naturalism in Uncle Vanya is grounded in his mature psychological vision that life has no real endings.

Bordinat, Philip. “Dramatic Structure in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.” In Chekhov’s Great Plays: A Critical Anthology, edited with an introduction by Jean-Pierre Barricelli. New York: New York University Press, 1981. Bordinat argues that Uncle Vanya follows classical dramatic construction if the protagonist is seen as “the individual” embodied in the four major characters. The conflict then becomes the individual’s desire for happiness in the face of the provincial Russian “wasteland.”

Melchinger, Siegfried. “The Wood Demon and Uncle Vanya.” In Anton Chekhov, translated by Edith Tarcov. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1972. Melchinger analyzes how Chekhov reworked his unsuccessful 1889 play, The Wood Demon (Leshy) into the groundbreaking 1897 Uncle Vanya. He focuses particularly on the parallel situations of Astrov and Vanya in the later play.

Peace, Richard. “Uncle Vanya.” In Chekhov: A Study of the Four Major Plays. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. Peace focuses on the symbolism of Uncle Vanya and discusses the significance in the play of tea drinking, the forest, the storm, birds and animals, and work.

Yermilov, V. “Uncle Vanya: The Play’s Movement.” In Chekhov: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Louis Jackson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. Discusses the use of musical and weather imagery in the play. Yermilov points out the cyclical movement of the play: The external situation at the end replicates the situation at the beginning, but internally everyone has changed.