Champagne by Anton Chekhov
In Champagne by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of loneliness, discontent, bitterness, loyalty, escape, self-pity, temptation and infidelity. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Nicolas and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of loneliness. There is a sense that though Nicolas has some company while he is working he remains lonely. Similarly even though he is married he continues to be lonely something that is possibly driven by the fact that he freely admits to not loving his wife. If anything Nicolas is not only discontent but some critics may suggest that he is also bitter about his circumstances. Though he makes no effort to improve his position in life drowning out any sense of sorrow that he has with alcohol. Both at home and while working. Nicolas also likes to look at some of the women who pass by on the train even though he is a married man. This may be important and in many ways acts as foreshadowing to later in the story when the reader realises that Nicolas has the potential and ability to be unfaithful to his wife. At no stage in the story does he show his wife any loyalty and if anything treats her badly often shouting at her when he is drunk.
Chekhov’s use of alcohol in the story may also be important as he may be using it as a tool to highlight Nicolas’ need to escape from the reality he finds himself in. Rather than being content with the fact that he has a job and a loving wife Nicolas throughout the story uses alcohol to escape from the pain and loneliness he feels. His sole companion in the story appears to be alcohol which he is reliant on throughout the story. It may very well be a case that Nicolas is an alcoholic such is his consumption of alcohol throughout the story. Though it is also possible that some critics may suggest that all Nicolas is doing is numbing the pain he feels due to his circumstances. However he appears to use alcohol to numb everything even while he is supposed to be working. Alcohol takes precedence in Nicolas’ life. He spends more time drinking than he does in the company of his wife. He also prefers to go walking rather than spending time with his wife which further highlights to the reader that Nicolas is not in love with his wife. When he doesn’t have to spend time with his wife Nicolas appears to avoid her.
There is also an element of self-pity in the story. Though it may be true that Nicolas is lonely he doesn’t really have a sufficient reason to be lonely. There are individuals that he can engage with (including his wife) though he appears to refuse to do so. Preferring instead to complain about his circumstances continuously. If Nicolas is to be believed as a narrator there is nothing positive in his life. He sees nothing that brings him happiness apart from his consumption of alcohol. Though it is true that Nicolas lives in an area that is mainly uninhabited he still has people to talk to should he chose. However the reality is that Nicolas doesn’t wish to talk to others. He prefers to complain about not only the life he is living but also his upbringing. Which further suggests that Nicolas may be bitter about his life and the circumstances he finds himself in. Though again the reality is not everything is bad for Nicolas.
The ending of the story is also interesting as Chekhov appears to be not only further exploring the theme of escape but also introducing temptation into the story as well. It is clear to the reader that Nicolas finds his aunt physically attractive and if anything she appears to be a bright light on the horizon for Nicolas. Fueled by his consumption of alcohol it would seem that Nicolas begins to flirt with his aunt and should Nicolas be believed also appears to be successful in his endeavour to flirt with her. Nicolas’ actions (of flirting) may be important as it is through his flirting that the reader senses that Nicolas may have gone further and had a relationship with his aunt even though he is a married man. It can also be safely assumed that the misfortune that Nicolas’ wife talked about earlier in the story has come to fruition for Nicolas. His wife obviously has become aware of Nicolas’ relationship with her aunt and has ended the marriage. Having previously disregarded his wife’s superstitions about the bottle of champagne Nicolas’ life has taken another turn for the worse. Not only is he no longer in a relationship with his wife (or his aunt) but he is no longer working either. Nicolas at the end of the story is now truly alone and to make matters worse he has no income to support himself and has no way to buy the alcohol that he was previously using to escape from the loneliness he felt.