GOOSEBERRIES By Anton Chekhov
Gooseberries was written towards the end of Chekhov’s life and was first published as the middle story of The Little Trilogy in 1898. We see that the author examines two of his favourite themes within this tale: social injustice and the quest for fulfilment. Ostensibly, this story deals with the hypocrisy of landowners who ignore the suffering of those less fortunate than themselves. But Chekhov also raises a subtler issue than class divides, as we see when Ivan asserts the hollowness of personal achievement. Ivan believes that successful people are blind to reality because they believe they are insulated from misfortune. Ivan thus despairs at his own happiness as he recognizes that “life will show him her claws sooner or later.” By this stroke, which comes like a sting in the tail of his text, Chekhov jolts his readers out of complacent objectivity. We are forced to question whether life is something to be sailed through without the expectation of encountering problems or setbacks, or whether it provides us with an opportunity to grasp “something greater and more rational” than happiness. Chekhov takes his opportunity to answer Tolstoy’s philosophical query, “How much land does a man need?”, when Ivan asserts that man requires only the freedom to roam the globe, where he can “have room to display all the qualities and peculiarities of his free spirit.”
Note prepared by teachers
GOOSEBERRIES By Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov was a Russian Physician, Dramatist and Writer. He is considered as one of the greatest short story writers. “Gooseberries” stands as the middle story in a trilogy of Chekhov’s tales, the first titled as ‘The man in a Shell’ and the last titled ‘About love.’ Isolation and escape from life are the themes of all these stories.
“Gooseberries” is a story of two brothers who pursue happiness in their own ways. It provides ample opportunities to examine critically the ways they have chosen and the extent to which they attain goals.
Ivan Ivanich, his brother Nicholai Ivanich, Bourkin, the friend of Ivan and Aliokhin, the friend of Brourkin are the main characters in the story.
In the beginning of the story Ivan, the vetenary surgeon and his friend Bourkin, the school master, were tired of wealthy and at the same time they wanted to enjoy the beauty of fields. It was a cloudy day and Ivan wanted to tell a story about his brother Nicholai. As it was raining they had to take shelter in Aliokhin’s house. Aliokhin was a man of 40, actually a farmer but who looks like a professor or a painter.
Aliokhin is dirty from his work and he invited his friends to the main house to bath. Ivan and Bourkin were shocked when the water around Aliokhin turns brown. He made an excuse that he had not washed for a while. Ivan also dived into the pool and enjoyed his bath.
Now Ivan recollects about the days when he and his brother Nicholai Ivanich spent their childhood, running wild in the country. After their father’s death their properties were sold to pay debt and legal bills. Nicholai hated the government job and he found it too restrictive and wanted to buy a country estate. He then married a rich widow whom he did not love. It was only to raise capital. Following her death, he purchased an estate where he planted 20 gooseberry bushes. On a visit to see his brother some years later, Ivan found that Nicholai had attained his goal in his life, i.e., he got what he wanted – a happy life in an estate. Ivan identified his brother’s self satisfaction and idleness of the story. He concluded that Nichoai used to be complacent as any other wealthy individual believing that all men would one day become free. Ivan admits that he is too old and unfit for the struggle. Aliokhin and Bourkin remained unsatisfied with his tale. The tale ends with a comment that rain lashed against windows all night.
In Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” after visiting his brother Nicholai, Ivan’s head is hot with the rush of ideas. To him freedom is a boon as essential as the air that we breathe. The story reflects the belief in pursuing one’s dream and doing whatever it takes to achieve it. Social injustice and quest for fulfilment is the theme of this story. The story also deals with the hypocrisy of landlords who ignore the sufferings of those less fortunate than them. According to Chekhov ‘money like vodka plays queer tricks with man.’ He is ready to do any atrocities to acquire money. We can see the same theme in his story “The Lottery Ticket”, how money can disturb a man’s life.
Ratheesh R Menon
Manju M C
Viji M S
Audio of Gooseberries