A Slander by Anton Chekhov
In A Slander by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of class, conflict, gossip, paranoia, appearance, trust and responsibility. Taken from his Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of class. Each individual mentioned at the beginning of the story has a secure, well paid job which associates them with the middle classes. It is also noticeable that those of a lower class are standing outside looking through a window at proceedings. This may be important as Chekhov may be highlighting the divide that existed within Russian society between classes at the time the story was written. The fact that Ahineev disputes Vankin’s remark that he was kissing Marfa may also be important as it suggests that Ahineev lives his life to the best he can (refined) and does not like to be accused in the wrong. Though the incident is minor it does play on the theme of conflict and Ahineev in many ways clashes with Vankin. There is also a sense that Ahineev is paranoid about what Vankin might say to the other guests. It is as though Ahineev has an image to uphold and he does not wish others to see him in an unfavourable or embarrassing light. The reader sensing that image or appearance is important to Ahineev.
Just how important appearance is to Ahineev is further noticeable by the fact that he begins to tell other people at the wedding about what had happened in the kitchen. If anything Ahineev is going on the offensive ensuring that others will hear his side of the story and not believe Vankin. Who is not actually telling people about what he saw in the kitchen. Again Ahineev is paranoid and afraid the veil of middle class proprietary that he likes to show others will slip and he may no longer be viewed by others as he would like to be viewed. What is also striking about the story is the fact that Ahineev foolishly believes he can trust everyone he has spoken to at the wedding. Rather than it being only one person who might create a nonsensical story about him. Now Ahineev is relying on others to believe him and not to gossip. However it soon becomes clear to the reader that the story Ahineev has told has become gossip. Gossip which may have a serious effect on Ahineev’s livelihood. At stake is Ahineev’s place in middle class society. A place that he values dearly and longs to maintain.
So dangerous is the gossip that the Headmaster in the school warns Ahineev to keep his relationship with Marfa quiet. Not to bring any disruption to the school. The Headmaster’s stance may be important as it suggests that appearance is important to him. He does not wish for the school to be seen in bad light. Likewise Ahineev’s wife has believed the gossip and scolds him for having a relationship with Marfa. Even though it is untrue. Ahineev’s life appears to have gone from one of happiness to a life full of fear and isolation. He feels as though everybody in the town is talking about him or believes that he has kissed Marfa. Which would further play on the theme of paranoia. It would also appear as though Ahineev fears the fact that he may have lost the social standing that he had previously held in the town. By telling others about what had happened in the kitchen Ahineev has managed to not only isolate himself but he has fuelled rumours of infidelity.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov appears to be exploring the theme of responsibility. Rather than looking inwards and realising he has made a mistake. Ahineev still blames others. Even though the reality is that he cannot trust the many people that he told the story to. If Ahineev had just laughed off Vankin’s remark there would be no problem. However Ahineev seems to have allowed his ego and pride to get in the way. That along with his fear of being associated with somebody of the lower classes or to be associated with infidelity has driven him to be defensive. And the best from of defensive its attack. Something that Ahineev did to Vankin at the wedding. If there is a lesson to be learned from the story it may be to not take things as serious as Ahineev has. If he had of been more relaxed about Vankin’s comment nothing would have happened. At the end of the story Ahineev is not only embarrassed but he also has no idea who may have spread the rumour that he kissed Marfa. An innocent remark from Vankin has caused nothing but trouble for Ahineev yet he does not wish to take responsibility for the part that he has played. While trying to defend himself he has left himself exposed to others who have maliciously picked up his story incorrectly and wounded Ahineev.