Old Age by Anton Chekhov
In Old Age by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of change, loss, renewal, memories, guilt and despair. Taken from his The Complete Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and very early on in the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of change. Since Uzelkov has returned to his hometown he cannot imagine the differences the town has undertaken. It is not the place that he has left and there is a sense of modernity. Even the old waiter cannot remember the parts of the town that Uzelkov can. What is also interesting about the town is that Uzelkov has many memories there. Including marrying and divorcing his first wife there. But this seems like a distant memory and only Shapkin can recall the marriage and the divorce. For he was responsible for the legal case and was paid handsomely for his duties.
Shapkin himself seems to have somewhat changed over the years and one would not be wrong to consider that business has been good to him. Though it is noticeable that Shapkin charges his clients an exorbitant rate for their cases. He made five thousand roubles out of Uzelkov’s divorce. Which originally cost ten thousand roubles. It is also interesting that Uzelkov cannot cry when he sees his ex-wife’s grave. It is as though the passing of time has made him hardy. Though it is also possible that Uzelkov is feeling guilty about the fact that the marriage broke down. Either way Uzelkov is unable to cry in a manner that he would like to be able to cry in. This matter is not helped by the matter of fact way that Shapkin discusses Uzelkov’s wife’s death. If anything Shapkin is a cold hearted man whose only interest is in money and champagne.
There may be some symbolism in the story which may be important. The town has changed and Uzelkov’s fortunes have too but how he feels about the town remain the same. It is as though Uzelkov remains paralysed despite the passing of time when it comes to the issue of the town. The redecoration of the church is a good thing for Uzelkov to do but one must wonder is he doing so out of guilt to his ex-wife. Shapkin as mentioned has not changed. He is still as crooked as ever when it comes to collecting frees from his clients and there is a feeling that Uzelkov has to drag the information out of him when he asks Shapkin questions. There’s would not be considered a reliable or dear friendship. The only thing dear to Shapkin is how much money he can get from his clients in order for him to live the life he is accustomed to.
The fact that Uzelkov does not cry at his wife’s grave is interesting. It is possible that he feels though he may have let her down and it is Shapkin who could have really helped her but he chose not to. By offering Uzelkov’s wife ten roubles when she looked for her divorce money back highlights to the reader just how uncaring and selfish Shapkin really in. Uzelkov may also be thinking was there anything else he could have done for his wife? If he had stayed would things have improved? Uzelkov doesn’t know for sure and possibly can’t help wondering what might have been. The only way that Uzelkov is seen acting at his wife’s grace can only be described as being in display. The joy he felt at returning to the town is long gone and there is a sense that Uzelkov is a desperate man. Who cannot rectify his past and lives with the guilt that he divorced his wife particularly when he discovers how miserable her life was after the divorce. Over all Old Age is sad tale that lets the reader know that despite the passing of time, time is not a great healer and that the only real winner is Shapkin. .