In the Graveyard by Anton Chekhov
In In the Graveyard by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of mortality, forgiveness, fear, discomfort, letting go, acceptance and insecurity. Taken from his Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story it becomes clear to the reader that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of mortality. Though the narrator and their companions have only been walking in the graveyard for a couple of hours they have come across three funeral processions. That along with the fact that the story is set in a graveyard suggests that Chekhov is exploring mortality and the effects that death can have on an individual (or group of people). The narrator appears to be overwhelmed with the fact that there is death all around them. If anything Chekhov may be suggesting that one’s own mortality comes to mind when an individual is confronted with death. It is most likely for this reason that the narrator longs to go home. Home being a place that the narrator is more comfortable with and which they have a familiarization with. Though some critics may suggest that the narrator should be more considerate or compassionate towards those who have died it is possible that Chekhov is suggesting that the narrator also fears their own death and as such does not wish to be surrounded by death.
The fact that the story is also narrated in the first person may also be symbolically important as it is possible that Chekhov, by using the first person (we), is attempting to be inclusive. He may be trying to create an atmosphere in the story in whereby the reader feels as though not only the individual (I) but a group (we) feel the same way when it comes to mortality. If anything Chekhov may be highlighting how fearful a person or a group of people may be when it comes to the subject of mortality. In essence Chekhov may be suggesting that not only is the individual afraid of death (the narrator) but society in general is also afraid of death. It may also be a case that Chekhov is exploring the theme of forgiveness particularly when it comes to the actor who visits Mushkin’s grave. Though it is not directly stated there is a sense that the actor by visiting Mushkin’s grave one last time. Forgives Mushkin for any part he may have played in a life that has been full of unhappiness for the actor.
It is also noticeable that the actor cannot let go of Mushkin even though he has brought such misery on the actor’s life. This could be important as Chekhov may be suggesting that regardless of an individual’s actions or input in another person’s life there may be some people who are never forgotten. The actor is unable to forget Mushkin. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the actor accepts his own fate. He knows he is dependent on alcohol and that drinking will kill him. Yet rather than change his circumstances and improve his chances of longevity he accepts the fact that he will soon die. This is contrary to how the narrator feels. While the actor has acceptance the narrator doesn’t. At no stage does the reader suspect that the actor is afraid of death so strong is his acceptance of his own mortality. While the narrator appears to be fearful of their own death.
The setting of the story also sets the tone for the story. A graveyard, particularly if an individual is visiting a grave they know, can be a depressing place and there is no doubt that the actor is depressed. His life in his own opinion has not be a success. Similarly at the end of the story there is a sense that the narrator is also depressed having been beaten by the day. It is also difficult to draw anything positive from the story apart from the actor’s acceptance. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that for the majority of people. The narrator and their companions. Mortality is something that is not easily digestible. Through the tone of the story and the narrator’s actions at the end it becomes clear to the reader that the narrator doesn’t really wish to think about their own mortality. Nor does it appear does any of the narrator’s companions. Rather than taking an opportunity to reflect on their life and its meaning the narrator longs for the comfort that comes with their home. Home is a place where the narrator not only feels comfortable but they also feel safe at home. The graveyard on the other hand provides the narrator with nothing but discomfort, insecurity and fear. It is for this reason that the narrator may not wish to explore their own mortality. Something that the actor has managed to do though he does remain bitter and resentful towards Mushkin.