Rothschild’s Fiddle by Anton Chekhov
In Rothschild’s Fiddle by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of sadness, gratitude, anger, paralysis, loss, grief, class and acceptance. Taken from his The Complete 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 grief. Not only does Yakov lose Marfa but there is a sense throughout the story that Yakov feels as though he has lost out on life. He does not feel as though he has received much from life nor has he given much to life. Marfa being an example and the fact that Yakov has mistreated her since they first got married. Though some critics might suggest that Yakov has been selfish he perhaps knows no other way of life. Something that becomes clear to the reader by way of the fact that Yakov for over fifty years has lived in the same one room home. He has made no progress in life which may suggest not only a paralysis in Yakov’s life but Chekhov may be highlighting how difficult life may have been for some people at the time the story was written. It is as though Yakov does not have the opportunities that others may have. Simple opportunities like the ability to be happy. If anything Yakov’s life is filled with sadness.
At no stage in the story would the reader consider Yakov to be happy. He appears to be focused entirely on monetary gain and has paid a price for this focus. The price being that he has not lived his life nor has he really allowed Marfa to live her life. Marfa herself is an interesting character as she works hard right up to the time she dies. It is possible that Chekhov is suggesting that many women in Russia had to work hard to support their husbands and that there was very little gratitude for their efforts. Something that is clear to the reader when it comes to Yakov’s treatment of Marfa. He has no respect or gratitude for anything that Marfa has done. In fact Yakov has no gratitude for anything in his life apart for his fiddle. When he is low the fiddle cheers him up. Though some might consider the songs that Yakov plays to be sad. At least Rothschild does. If anything Yakov uses the fiddle to express how he feels. Playing the fiddle is the only way that Yakov knows how to express himself. At least in a way that is not full of anger.
Yakov’s anger is also interesting as he appears to take out his own disappointment with the world on others. Marfa and Rothschild being two examples. Rather than looking at himself and dealing with how he feels. Yakov tends to get angry. It might also be worth nothing that some of Yakov’s anger is justified. Particularly when it comes to how Marfa is treated by Maxim Nikolaitch. As far as Nikolaitch is concerned there is nothing he can do for Marfa. However Yakov knows that if he and Marfa were of a higher class in life. Things would not have been the same and Nikolaitch would have acted differently. What is also interesting is the fact that Yakov doesn’t seem to realise that he is reliant on Marfa. It is her hard work that keeps Yakov’s home together. At no stage does Yakov appreciate Marfa till it is too late. It is the same when he is walking after Marfa has died. He looks at the world around him and realises that he has not really lived his life. He might have reached seventy years of age but there is so much that he has not noticed in life. His entire focus has been on work.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov appears to be exploring the theme of acceptance. Yakov seems to accept that he is going to die. It is as though he has given up on life. His attitude towards Rothschild also changes which may suggest that not only is Yakov making peace with Rothschild but he is also making peace with himself. He knows how he has lived his life has been improper. Though he also knows that there is nothing he can do about it now. The only option available to Yakov is to die. Something he is comfortable with doing. It might also be a case that Yakov is aware that he will not have to carry the guilt he feels about Marfa when he dies. Everything will come to an end. The struggles that Yakov has felt and the struggle he imposed on Marfa will no longer burden Yakov. The fact that Rothschild also plays the same song on the fiddle that he heard Yakov play may be important. Particularly the fact that it makes other people weep as it did Yakov and Rothschild. It is possible that the song reminds those who weep of how sad a life unfulfilled can be.