A Pink Stocking by Anton Chekhov
In A Pink Stocking by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of control, independence, submission, guilt, criticism, equality and expression. 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 just how much control Somov has over Lidotchka. Throughout the story he dictates to her how he feels about her ability or rather her inability to write a letter. Scorning the simplicity of her writing and judging her for what she has written. As though one letter can define an individual. If anything Somov’s criticism is harsh and uncalled for. Lidotchka’s letter is no more than an observation but Somov can’t see this. He is too busy attempting to impose his own will and letter writing skills onto Lidotchka. She appears to not only be depressed by Somov’s criticism but it is also noticeable that she is unable to stand up for herself. Taking Somov’s criticism as though it was fact. When the reality is it is no more than Somov’s opinion. He is exerting his will and (assumed) authority while trying to shape Lidotchka into something more pleasing to him. This may be important as Chekhov may be suggesting that at the time the story was written very few women were allowed to independently think for themselves or do as they saw fit. Which is very much the case for Lidotchka. She appears to be under the complete control of Somov.
How much control Somov actually has over Lidotchka is further noticeable when Chekhov introduces Lidotchka’s salad making into the story. It is as though she has a role to play within the marriage and that role involves listening to Somov’s criticism and making dinner for him. When the reality is Somov is quite able to perform this task himself. If anything Chekhov may be suggesting that there was a sense of inequality between the sexes at the time the story was written. With the male playing the more dominant and controlling role. It is also interesting that Lidotchka does not question Somov when he is criticizing her. She listens to him and attempts to defend herself on occasion rather than ignoring Somov and his criticism. She takes on board Somov’s negativity which results in Lidotchka being embarrassed over her schooling and the reality is she submits to Somov’s will. Blaming herself for her inability to write a letter that is deemed acceptable by Somov.
Somov is also unfairly comparing himself and his abilities to Lidotchka’s abilities. Lidotchka left school early while Somov had the good fortune to attend University. Somov also appears to believe that because Lidotchka is a general’s daughter she should be better educated than she is. However it is possible that Lidotchka’s father thought as Somov thinks. That a woman’s place in a family was not to be the equal of a man and as such Lidotchka may not have been allowed to further her education. Though Lidotchka blames her mother for her not being able to attend High School it is possible that the decision was made by Lidotchka’s father and her mother just adhered to his command. If anything Lidotchka’s mother may have been under the complete control of her husband just as Lidotchka is. It may also be a case that Somov is afraid to allow Lidotchka think for herself. By doing so he will no longer have absolute control over her. If she is free thinking she may be able to stand up to Somov and the reality may be that it is Somov who lacks the refinery that he scolds Lidotchka for not having.
The end of the story is also interesting as Somov begins to feel somewhat guilty about how he has treated Lidotchka. However the guilt is short lived and Somov considers it easier to live with a ‘simple’ woman like Lidotchka than a woman who may be clever. It may also be important to remember that Somov is basing his opinion of Lidotchka as being ‘simple’ purely on her letter writing skills. She is given no other voice in the story unlike the two other women that Chekhov mentions and who Somov wishes to stay clear of (Natalya Andreyevna and Marya Frantsovna). The fact that Somov wishes to avoid communication with either woman may be significant as it suggests that he again may be afraid that his own intellect may be challenged just as he is challenging Lidotchka’s. Both Natalya and Marya may be not only clever and well-educated women but they might also have the ability to better Somov and it may be case that Somov’s pride could not take been beaten (intellectually) by a woman. Throughout the story Somov has remained in control, submitting his wife to his opinions on letter writing and avoiding any challenge to his authority. Though some critics might suggest that Lidotchka is weak for taking on board her husband’s criticism it is more likely that Chekhov is merely holding a mirror up to society. For every one Lidotchka there were thousands of others. Women who were ridiculed by their husbands and not allowed to freely express themselves.