A Blunder by Anton Chekhov
In A Blunder by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of aspirations, desperation, marriage, tradition and independence. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of aspirations. Both Ilya and Kleopatra wish for their daughter Natashenka to be married. So enthusiastic are they at the prospect that she might marry Shchupkin that they are eavesdropping at the door listening to Natashenka and Shchupkin talking. This may be important as though Ilya and Kleopatra are enthusiastic that Natashenka might marry there is also an element of anxiety or desperation. Something that is noticeable by Ilya’s plans to bring the ikon into the room when the time is right. Though Ilya and Kleopatra may be desperate to marry off their daughter Chekhov never gives the reader any insight into why they might be desperate. It is possible that Natashenka is of a marrying age (or past it) and Ilya and Kleopatra want to ensure that Natashenka is married. Though again it is difficult to say as Chekhov provides the reader with no background. All the action within the story takes place in the present. The ikon itself may also be important and can be seen as not only symbolism for tradition but it also important enough to be considered as being a legal commitment to marriage when presented to a couple. Something that each character in the story is aware of.
It may also be important that Shchupkin doesn’t actually want to marry Natashenka. There is no doubting that he longs for a relationship of some kind with her however marriage is far from his mind. This may be important as Chekhov may be suggesting that at the time the story was written some people (like Shchupkin) wanted to be in a relationship but did not necessarily wish to be committed to the relationship by way of marriage. It would appear that Shchupkin is looking for a physical relationship with Natashenka without being hindered by marriage. Though it is interesting that he is prepared to marry Natashenka when he thinks that Ilya is about to hold up the ikon. Which may suggest the strength of tradition at the time the story was written. Should the ikon be produced Shchupkin knows that he will be obliged to marry Natashenka though again he may not necessarily want to commit to her by way of marriage.
Chekhov may also be exploring the relationship that existed at the time between Church and State. The fact that Ilya knows that his action of producing the ikon will be legally binding in the eyes of the courts suggests that the relationship between Church and State is not separate or independent of each other. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that both Church and State need to separate themselves from each other in order to have a truly independent Russia. Just as Shchupkin wishes to have some independence and not get married Chekhov likewise could be suggesting that both the Church and State need to be independent of one another. When it comes to Ilya and Kleopatra’s belief system it is also noticeable that there is a sizeable gap between what they believe in and what Shchupkin believes in. With it being possible that Chekhov is highlighting the gap between both generations. On one hand you have Ilya and Kleopatra adhering to traditional values while Shchupkin is different and will only adhere to tradition should he have no other option.
The end of the story is also interesting. The reader is given more of an insight into how Ilya feels than how Natashenka might feel knowing that Shchupkin is not going to marry her. Ilya is distraught that Kleopatra has brought the wrong picture into the room. Any aspiration he had for Natashenka to marry Shchupkin is lost. It is also noticeable that Shchupkin is relieved that the ikon has not been produced. He knows he is now under no obligation to marry Natashenka which suggests that from the beginning of the story Shchupkin had no real intention of marrying Natashenka. It is again possible that the love that Shchupkin has for Natashenka is more physical than anything else. Unlike Natashenka who is excited about the prospect of marrying Shchupkin. If anything Natashenka has fallen in love with Shchupkin and wants to marry him. She has given Shchupkin her heart yet it would appear that Shchupkin has given Natashenka nothing in return apart from empty promises of love and flattery. Ilya and Kleopatra have also relied on tradition in an attempt to marry their daughter off to a suitor whose intentions may not be as pure as the love that Natashenka feels. Rather than Ilya and Kleopatra being the disappointed party in the story the individual who is really disappointed and who has paid a price (remaining single) is Natashenka. Her own hopes and aspirations have not been taken into account by Ilya and Kleopatra. The main focus at the end of the story remains on Ilya and Kleopatra rather than on Natashenka.