The Darling by Anton Chekhov
In The Darling by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of dependency, independence, identity, devotion, fear, paralysis and insecurity. 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 dependency. Olenka seems to be reliant or dependent on the men in her life. She is unable to formulate an opinion of her own, one that may differ from that of any of the men in the story. This is noticeable when she first marries Kukin. She tends to agree with everything that he says. Similarly when she marries Pustovalov her thoughts mirror his and what is also noticeable is that she no longer believes in the importance of the theatre. Something she had previously believed in when she was married to Kukin. It is as though Olenka is unable to think for herself and has a total dependency on the men in her life. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. At the time the story was written many women in Russia (and around the world) followed the lead of their husbands. What was important to their husbands was important to them. Rather than this being seen as a moral faithfulness to their husbands it is more likely that Chekhov is highlighting the blind allegiance that many women had to their husbands. Whether this was right or wrong is left to each individual reader to decide.
What is also striking about the story is the lack of independence that Olenka shows. She is either happy or sad with no moods that would be considered in-between. Though it is natural to be sad when a loved one dies. Olenka soon forgets about her first husband (Kukin) and blindly adheres to the thoughts and ideas of her second husband (Pustovalov). Even going as far as saying that the theatre is nonsense where previously she had dedicated her life to the theatre. In reality Olenka may not necessarily know who she really is. What her identity is such is her heavy reliance on others. It is as though she believes that happiness can be found by living her life through the lens or eyes of others. When the reality is very much different. True happiness is found within rather than looking outside oneself. Something which Olenka continually does. She appears to strive for happiness through the actions of others. Which may suggest that Olenka is living a paralyzed type of life with little or no emotional or mental development due to her reliance and dependency on others.
It may also be a case that Olenka is devoted to each of the men in the story. She throws all she has into the relationships she has with them. Which would also play on the theme of independence. It is as though Olenka is unable to think for herself such is the level of devotion she shows each man. Their world is her world with very little if any activity happening outside of the marriages. Though Chekhov makes reference to Olenka’s friends on several occasions in the story. We as readers never get to know their names or any other information about them. Olenka remains fixed and focused on the men in her life. Which again at the time the story was written would have been considered to be very normal. With a woman’s position in life considered to be one that is beside her husband. Though the reality of this stance is that very few if any women would have lived independent lives. Olenka does not appear to have the strength to live her life not only independently of others but alone.
The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov appears to be exploring the theme of fear and highlighting to the reader just how afraid Olenka is to live her life alone. She takes over the role of Sasha’s mother. Doing the things that the reader expects Sasha’s mother to do. However just as she overly focused on the occupations and practices of her two husbands likewise Olenka appears to be going to extremes when it comes to her opinion on Sasha’s education. She shifts from talking about the theatre and timber to the difficulties that a child faces in High School. Basing her opinion solely on the education of Sasha. She is fearful not only that his young mind will be unable to learn so much but she is also afraid that Sasha’s mother will return and take Sasha away from her. This may be important as it again suggests that not only is Olenka unable to live her life independent of others but she remains at the end of the story dependent on Sasha just as she had previously been dependent on her two husbands. There has been no real movement for Olenka throughout the story which would again suggest that she remains paralyzed in thought. Living her life reliant on others to provide her with contentment and happiness. If anything Olenka remains just as insecure at the end of the story as she was at the beginning.