A Misfortune by Anton Chekhov
In A Misfortune by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of control, ego, love, selfishness, guilt, honesty and conflict. 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 control. Sofya throughout the story appears to enjoy being in control when it comes to IIyin’s feelings. It is as though his torment is empowering her and she likes the feeling of empowerment or the ability to be able to control another human being. There is also a sense that Sofya is allowing her ego to run wild. She is flattered by the attention she receives from IIyin and if anything enjoys the sense of power that she has over IIyin. This may be important as Chekhov appears to be writing of a female character who is in control of a relationship rather than being the one who is struggling. At the time the story was written very few writers wrote of strong female characters when it came to matters of the heart. Despite being married and having a child Sofya is playing with IIlyin torturing him by saying one thing but yet doing another. The reality being that Sofya does not really wish for IIyin to end their affair despite her suggestions that she does. She is as trapped in her infidelity just as Ilyin is. Which in many ways causes conflict within Sofya.
Sofya also believes herself to be a dutiful wife and mother yet the truth is she is neither. She can’t stand Andrey even though she attempts to tolerate him. Similarly when she holds her daughter all she feels is a coldness. Which may symbolically suggest that Sofya by her way of living (adultery) is being cold to Varya and rather than putting Varya first is instead putting herself first. Which may also suggest that Sofya is acting selfishly by conducting an affair with IIyin. Sofya also appears to treat her relationship with IIyin as a game without taking into consideration the seriousness of matters. Not only are Andrey and Varya affected by Sofya’s actions but Sofya is playing with IIyin’s emotions too. She blows both hot and cold remaining in complete control when she is not scolding herself for falling in love with IIyin. Throughout the story there is a sense that Sofya is enjoying the position she finds herself in something that is noticeable when she is at the party and singing. She is not taking into account IIyin’s feelings at all. With each song that Sofya is singing acting as a knife cutting into IIyin’s heart.
The title of the story may also be important as Chekhov may be suggesting that Sofya finds herself not only in a misfortunate position but an unenviable one too. At first she enjoys the control she has over IIyin allowing it to pamper her ego but as the story progresses and the reader realises that Sofya is indeed in love with IIyin things begin to get difficult for Sofya. Her thoughts begin to become conflicting and she on one hand feels guilty about her actions yet on the other hand knows there is very little she can do. She is as drawn to IIyin as he is to her. Though she fights it to the best of her ability. Even going as far as telling Andrey that she is falling in love with somebody else. Though unfortunately Andrey considers Sofya’s feelings to be no more than a fancy. The honesty that Sofya shows near the end of the story may also be important as for the first time in the story Sofya is not playing games she is genuinely afraid of what may happen (leaving Andrey and Varya). She knows that she is slipping into IIyin’s arms.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov continues to explore the theme of conflict and guilt. Despite feeling guilty Sofya knows there is very little she can do. She has tried to fight how she feels about IIyin yet now she finds that she is unable to control her emotions. She is torn between staying with Andrey and going away with IIyin. Where previously the affair between Sofya and IIyin had been on Sofya’s terms this is no longer the case. Sofya is also prepared to live with the shame that will come with her affair becoming public which may suggest that Sofya’s love for IIyin is genuine. She is not concerned about what others will say. Where previously she protested about believing in the sanctity of marriage this is no longer the case. Sofya’s main goal at the end of the story is to pursue a relationship with IIyin regardless of other people’s opinions. No longer has Sofya placed herself on a pedestal of virtue and realises that with her actions comes consequences. Not only will there be shame but Chekhov also mentions there will be fear. Sofya is to begin a new life, leaving her husband and child and starting out in life with IIyin. Though whether she is successful is not known.