A Work of Art by Anton Chekhov
In A Work of Art by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of gratitude, poverty, perception, morality, independence, paralysis and social opinion. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of gratitude. Sasha is grateful to Dr. Koshelkov for saving his life and as such presents him with an antique candelabra due to the fact that he cannot pay Dr. Koshelkov for his services by way of financial means. However Dr. Koshelkov though he likes the candelabra realises that he cannot publically display it in his office. This may be important as Chekhov may be using the candelabra to explore the theme of perception. Sasha considers the candelabra to be a work of art while Dr. Koshelkov thinks otherwise. He considers it improper to display the candelabra in his office. As too does Uhov when he is presented with the Candelabra by Koshelkov. So inappropriate is the candelabra that Uhov tries to pass it on to Shashkin. All three men, Koshelkov, Uhov and Shashkin have one thing in common. Their opinion on the candelabra is that it may be a work of art however it is more troublesome to keep than it is worth.
Which may say a lot for society’s perception when it comes to art. With beauty being evident in the candelabra however due to the morals that society imposes on the individual none of the three men are prepared to keep the candelabra. None are independent enough in their thinking to keep the candelabra and forget about what others might say about it when they see it. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that Koshelkov, Uhov and Shashkin are somewhat paralysed or stuck to a routine that involves them being overly concerned about what society thinks. None of the men appear to have an independent voice unlike Sasha who can see the real beauty in the candelabra. Their lives seem to be dictated by the social opinion of others. Who may view all three men in an unfavourable light should they keep the candelabra and display it in their home or office. Which really leaves the reader thinking that maybe all three men are defined by how others may view them.
Something that is interesting considering that all three men are successful in their professions. They do not need to rely on the opinion of others and it may be a case that they are actually afraid of upsetting the status quo. It may also be a case that all three men realise that should they step out of the boundaries that society has set them. They will be isolated and judged by others. Which would directly impact on their income. Dr. Koshelkov would lose patients. Uhov would lose clients and Shashkin would lose an audience to play to. Each man may be comfortable with their place in society and as such do not want to jeopardize not only their income but their reputation by keeping the candelabra. This may be important as it again suggests that neither of the three men are willing to be independently minded and are stuck in a routine that society dictates to them. If anything Chekhov may be suggesting that not only are the three men non-progressive but society too may also be non-progressive when it comes to its opinion of the candelabra.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov manages to add humour to the story. Sasha believes he has found the match to the candelabra and presents it to Dr. Koshelkov. Little does Sasha realise that it is the same candelabra that he is presenting to Dr. Koshelkov for a second time. It is as though Chekhov, through humour, is affording Dr. Koshelkov the opportunity to think differently or change his mind about the candelabra. However it is clear to the reader that Dr. Koshelkov has not changed his mind. He is aware that he now has to go back to Uhov who will go to Shashkin. Who in turn will attempt to sell the candelabra back to Madame Smirnov (Sasha’s mother). The paralysis that Koshelkov, Uhov and Shashkin may feel due to the pressures of society is mirrored by a second attempt by all three men to do what they had previously done. In essence they are doing the same thing again which suggests very little movement on behalf of all three men. They remain under the influence of social opinion and as such none of the men will keep the candelabra. Their lives being dictated to them by what society thinks. Rather than showing any independent thought all three men remain fixed in their beliefs. Which again suggests that all three men are paralysed by society’s opinion.