Sorrow by Anton Chekhov
In Sorrow by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of desperation, struggle, guilt, cruelty, hope, loss and self-pity. 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 desperation. Grigory is desperate to get Matryona to Pavel’s practice. He knows that her life will be saved only if he can get her to Pavel’s in time. It may also be significant that Chekhov is using the setting (weather) to highlight to the reader the struggles that Grigory faces. If anything the weather matches the desperation that Grigory feels. As for Matryona we do not hear from her directly in the story. She remains silent before she dies. This too could be important as it is possible that Chekhov is suggesting that Matryona does not have a voice. Women at the time the story was written were silent. Society was patriarchal.
The fact that Grigory has previously been physically abusive towards Matryona is important. It highlights that when he drinks he thinks of no one but himself and he has being drinking throughout the marriage. However there is a sense that Grigory feels guilty about beating Matryona. Though it is noticeable that the guilt only arrives when Grigory discovers that Matryona is dead. There is also a possibility that Grigory is overwhelmed by self-pity while he is driving his cart towards Pavel’s practice. True he is hoping that Matryona can get better however the narrator relates Grigory’s insecurities to the reader. Where one would expect him to be fully focused on Matryona. Even when Matryona dies Grigory does not take her to Pavel’s practice. It is as though to do so would be pointless and it is only on the horse’s instinct that Grigory ends up at Pavel’s practice.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The horse is as beaten as Grigory though it still manages to reach its destination. Pavel’s loss of his limbs might symbolise or mirror the loss that Pavel feels over Matryona‘s death but again it might be important to remember that Grigory for the main is only thinking of himself now that Matryona is dead. Pavel is a significant character as he represents hope to Grigory. Hope that he might help or save Matryona. Pavel’s relationship with Pavel is also interesting as Pavel can see Grigory for the man he is. A drunk who has been physically abusive towards Matryona. The snow that is falling throughout the story may also have some symbolic significance. Just as the snow makes it hard for Grigory to see in front of him. Alcohol has also clouded his judgement. From the time of his marriage to Matryona and till her death. Grigory has abused not only Matryona but he has also abused alcohol.
The end of the story is interesting as one might not be wrong to consider that justice has been served on Grigory. Throughout his forty years with Matryona he has been cruel towards her by beating her. Now that he has lost the use of his limbs Grigory is going to die and Pavel will not do anything for him or is unable to do anything for Grigory. It is a harsh lesson for Grigory to learn but it is a lesson that he needs to learn. A person cannot live their life being cruel towards others without some sense of karma and this is very much the case in the story. The reader left feeling that Grigory has gotten what he deserves. However Grigory does have one redemptive quality that cannot be ignored. He has at least tried to get Matryona some help. His motives for this may be uncertain but the fact is that for once in his life Grigory has done the right thing. He has acted unselfishly by trying to bring Matryona to Pavel’s practice. Though as readers we are only too sure that Grigory’s actions are in vain.