At the Barber’s by Anton Chekhov
In At the Barber’s by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of love, loss, misery and change. 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 love. Makar has feelings for Anna, which he believes are reciprocated. However Anna is due to marry Sheikin. This may be significant as Erast has betrothed Anna to Sheikin. Mostly because he is self-sufficient and Erast believes that Anna will be better off if she marries Sheikin. Not only does he have an income but he also has a mortgage on his home. Unlike the poorer Makar who has nothing but a run-down barber’s shop. What is also interesting about the story is how quickly Makar goes from happiness to sadness when he finds out about Anna’s marriage plans. This is significant as Makar has gone from being in love to having lost in love. If anything Makar becomes miserable and is unable to do any work.
It is also noticeable that Erast believes in the importance of money over love. If is for this reason that he has allowed for Anna to marry Sheikin. Love in Erast’s eyes pays for nothing. It is money that pays for things. Though ironically Erast never pays for his haircut. He expects to receive a free one from Makar. Who usually obliges him because he is his Godfather. Though as the story progresses Makar refuses to cut Erast’s hair for nothing. Possibly because he is upset with Erast for allowing Anna to marry Sheikin when she was promised to him. Another interesting thing about the story is the fact that Anna remains silent throughout. It is as though she doesn’t have a voice or a choice in who she wishes to marry. It is possible that Chekhov is highlighting the fact that at the time the story was written there was a patriarchal society. Women simply did not have a voice.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The fact that the barber shop is so run down may suggest that Makar is down on his luck and as such is not a good proposition to be a husband. He after all he has nothing to offer Anna apart from love. Which some critics might suggest is enough. The shawl that Erast wears over his head could also be important as symbolically Chekhov may be suggesting that Erast is embarrassed by his hair. As though people will judge him by his appearance. When the reality is most people who know Erast will already have an opinion about him. Good or bad. The fact that Makar tries to earn a living from cutting hair, regardless of the condition of the shop, might also suggest that Makar is determined to prosper. That he is not necessarily so unlike Sheikin.
The end of the story is interesting as through Makar’s misery he attempts to charge Erast for a haircut. This is the first time this has happened but it is significant as it shows the reader how Makar is feeling. Rather than pay Makar, Erast leaves the barber shop with one half of his head shaved. This change is important as it highlights to the reader how serious Makar is when it comes to his love for Anna. He will do no more favours for Erast. Something which surprises Erast, who cannot see what the problem is with Makar not marrying Anna. It is as though Erast does not know the endless boundaries of love. How Makar is prepared to do anything for Anna. Regardless of the fact that he has no money. Erast on the other hand believes in the power of money and considers it to be the most important thing in the world. Though yet again he refuses to pay for a haircut. At no stage in the story does the reader feel as though Erast understands just how deeply in love Makar is with Anna. He is blinded by Sheikin and his wealth. So blinded in fact that he doesn’t mind dancing at Anna’s wedding to Sheikin with half his head shaven.