Dreams by Anton Chekhov
In Dreams by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of appearance, identity, struggle, freedom, hopes and aspirations. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of appearance. The tramp does not have the appearance of a tramp and though he won’t tell either constable his name (which plays on the theme of identity) it becomes clear to both Ptaha and Sapozhnikov that the tramp does not speak like a tramp. The reader discovering that the tramp may be of noble stock at least on his father’s side. It is also interesting that all three men physically struggle as they are walking along the road as in many ways this struggle mirrors the tramps own struggles in life. He is a prisoner who has escaped from prison yet all he longs for is some freedom. Even if that freedom means he has to serve his sentence in East Siberia. If anything the tramp has a dream that the reader suspects he will never be able to attain due to the fact he is an escaped prisoner. The only way the tramp will reach his dreams is by being sentenced to live in East Siberia. Which may not happen.
It is also interesting that both Ptaha and Sapozhnikov can identify with the tramps hopes and aspirations. They too can imagine living their lives as the tramp would like to live his. However it is also interesting that neither Ptaha nor Sapozhnikov are prepared to allow the tramp go free. He is to be brought into the town and in all likelihood will end up in the same prison that he escaped from. His name will become irrelevant as there will be guards from the prison who know who the tramp is. It may also be important that the tramp is the one who handed his master/father the cyanide as it may be possible that the tramp knew what he was doing. He had a motive after all considering that his mother was no longer favoured by his master/father. So in that respect the tramp may not necessarily be an innocent man. However this does not take away from the fact that he craves to be free. Guilty or innocent the tramp’s freedom is utmost in his mind.
Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that everybody, guilty or innocent of a crime or misdemeanour, longs to be free. To be able to do as they would like to do when they like. Which is not the case for the tramp. Due to the fact that his birth is not acknowledged by his father the tramp is forced to live his life as a servant. When the reality is his stock is that of master. Which may be important as not only would the lack of acknowledgement from his father play on the theme of identity but it would also mean that the tramp has not had the freedom in his life that he could have had should his father have acknowledged him as his son. Similarly the tramp’s mother would have had freedom. No longer having to work as a servant. It is possible that Chekhov is placing a spotlight on what may have been a common occurrence in Russia at the time the story was written (1886). With many men from noble stock impregnating their female servants but not taking responsibility for their actions. The results being that people like the tramp had a confusing identity that was not recognised by others.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Chekhov may be using the setting to explore the theme of struggle and identity. As mentioned all three men are struggling as they walk along the muddy road. It is as though they are making no progress whatsoever. Likewise the fog which hinders the men from being able to see clearly symbolically mirrors the lack of clarity when it comes to the tramp’s name. Nothing is clear. Which may be important as Chekhov may be suggesting that for some in life (like the tramp) nothing will ever be clear due to their circumstances. If anything the tramp due to his father’s refusal to recognise him as his son has lived an unfortunate life. It is understandable, whether it was a mistake or not, as to why the tramp and his mother might want to kill their master/father. Due to the circumstances that existed at the time the tramp had no rights nor did his mother. Rather he fell on the wrong side of the law and the hopes and aspirations he has to live a free life may never materialize. The reader aware that though Ptaha and Sapozhnikov can identify with the tramp’s dreams they will not be his pathway to freedom.