Art by Anton Chekhov
In Art by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of control, glory, selfishness, triumph and fear. Taken from his Collected 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. Seryozhka likes to control Matvey when it comes to building the Jordan. He does very little work himself but is successful when it comes to barking orders. That Matvey ultimately follows. It is as though Matvey considers himself to be the weaker of the two men and as such must follow Seryozhka‘s orders. He will not have a peaceful life should he challenge Seryozhka. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Matvey does not really have a voice. Any dialogue in the story is usually started and finished by Seryozhka. He remains in complete control throughout the story. Taking advantage of a weaker and older Matvey. One wonders would Seryozhka treat another man, his own age, the same. It is unlikely that he would do so. Seryozhka knows he can take advantage of Matvey because of his age and Seryozhka’s perception of him.
How selfish Seryozhka actually is, is noticeable when he returns to town. He goes to the public house to buy alcohol. Yet he never pays for it nor does he have any concern about Matvey and how he might be getting on. The most important person in Seryozhka’s life is himself. He is not building the Jordan in an effort to help the church (as Matvey is doing) but rather he is doing so in order that he will be seen by others to be a man of importance. Somebody that will be respected by others. Yet in reality Seryozhka may be no more than a drunk who likes to bully other people. The easier the target the better. Again one does not imagine Seryozhka standing toe to toe with somebody his own age. Matvey is an easy touch for Seryozhka and he knows it. The setting of the story is also significant as Chekhov’s opening line tells the reader that it is ‘a gloomy winter morning.’ In many ways the gloom that hangs over the lake mirrors the gloom that Matvey feels when he is engaging with Seryozhka. The title too is self-explanatory. The Jordan that is being built is the piece of art that Seryozhka takes credit for.
Chekhov also teases the reader by introducing the crowbar so early in the story. At first many readers might think that Seryozhka and Matvey are preparing themselves to commit a crime or to go fishing. The idea that they are planning on building a Jordan does not enter the reader’s mind till later on in the story. How Seryozhka is dressed could also be important. In reality he is dressed like an old tramp. Yet he still commands the attention of Matvey and the reader never really knows why Matvey is so submissive to Seryozhka. The assumption is that Matvey is afraid of Seryozhka. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that some people in life are afraid of other people. That there is a hierarchy of sorts when two people are together. One person will be dominant while the other person will be submissive. Something that is very true when it comes to Seryozhka and Matvey’s relationship.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov appears to be exploring the theme of glory and triumph. Rather than participating in the mass Seryozhka is delighted with his work. Knowing that others consider what they see to be a marvel. However the reader is aware that most of the work has been done by Matvey who remains in the church out of sight. He receives no glory or praise from others for his efforts. If anything Seryozhka is acting selfishly by taking up all of the praise. He shares nothing with anybody throughout the story and is only concerned about his own recognition for Matvey’s efforts. Throughout the story Seryozhka has been lazy and inconsiderate when it comes to Matvey. He has treated him worse than a dog would be treated. Yet it is interesting that Matvey has been so submissive. Perhaps he has been taken advantage of or he does not necessarily mind being taken advantage of. Regardless as to why Matvey had been so submissive he definitely has not received the credit he was due.