The Doctor by Anton Chekhov
In The Doctor by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of loss, love, compassion, grief, acceptance, responsibility, selfishness and honesty. Taken from his The Collected 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 loss. Olga cannot let go of Misha. Which is understandable. He is all that she has left in the world and feels his death will be such a great loss to her. Nikolay on the other hand does not have the same difficulty as Olga, even though Olga has told him and others that he is Misha’s father. This may be significant as it may suggest that Nikolay is stoic or has an inability to connect with someone who is his natural son. He has loved Olga all his life and provides for Misha but he in reality is not really there for Misha. Apart from being there in his capacity as a doctor and even then he does a poor job comforting Misha.
The theme of honesty is also evident in the story. Not only does Nikolay not believe Olga about him being Misha’s father but he knows that she has told others (Petrov) that they are Misha’s father. In reality Olga is in receipt of monies from three separate men who she has claimed are Misha’s father. If anything it may be a case that Chekhov is suggesting that Olga cannot be trusted and that she is thinking only of herself at the very moment her son is to die. However it is also possible that Olga wanted the best for Misha and as such lied to three different men for Misha’s sake. In order that he may not be left short in life. It is difficult as a reader to judge Olga as Chekhov remains focused on Nikolay throughout the story. As if to highlight how difficult it is for Nikolay to accept he is Misha’s father. It is as though Nikolay wants to be let go by Olga. To have no responsibility emotionally for the position he finds himself in.
There may also be some symbolism in the story that is significant. Chekhov uses a dark setting in the drawing room. The sun has set and it is getting dark. In many ways this mirrors the mood of the story. There is a darkness coming over Nikolay and he wants to know the truth about Misha. Not because it is good for Misha‘s sake but because it will allow him to emotionally release himself from any responsibility to Misha. It may also be symbolically significant that Olga lies to Nikolay, at least in Nikolay’s eyes. As she may not actually know who the father is, having had a relationship with three men over the same period of time. It is interesting that Chekhov doesn’t slight Olga for this as he may be suggesting that Olga did nothing wrong. She was a woman who fell in love with three men and should not necessarily be punished for it. If a man is allowed to fall in love with more than one woman. So too is a woman allowed to fall in love with more than one man.
The end of the story is also interesting as Nikolay never learns the truth and is left to wonder why he has difficulty expressing himself. It is not necessarily a case that Nikolay is a cold man. He may simply not like uncertainty in his life and he will never get complete closure from Olga, who may still love Nikolay. However it would not be wrong for some readers to consider that Nikolay is acting selfishly when it comes to Misha. He in reality shows no emotions or expresses no personal concerns over the fact that Misha is going to die. If anything Nikolay is the one who should be criticized and not Olga. Whose only fault was falling in love with more than one man. The real sympathy in the story lies with Misha and Olga and not with Nikolay. Who only wants closure for personal reasons. At no stage does Nikolay consider how Misha or Olga may be feeling.