The Huntsman by Anton Chekhov

The Huntsman - Anton ChekhovIn The Huntsman by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of love, confidence, independence, sadness, letting go and regret. 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 love. There is very little doubting that Pelagea loves Yegor. Something that is noticeable by her requests for Yegor to visit her in her hut. However though Pelagea may love Yegor the love she feels for him is not reciprocated. Yegor contributes the fact that he is married to Pelagea as being a result of him being drunk. He did not marry out of love and appears to have done so because the Count lost a wager. This may be important as Chekhov could be highlighting the role of certain woman in Russian society at the time the story was written. Rather than having freedom to marry. There employers or possibly other family members would have decided upon who the woman (or girl) should marry. It may be merely coincidental that Pelagea genuinely loves Yegor. Though it is also possible that she may be somewhat naïve when it comes to affairs of the heart and views Yegor as someone who will lift her from the poverty she lives in.

It may also be important that Yegor views himself so highly when the reality is that he is no more than a servant to his master and is employed to provide a service (hunting). In many ways both Yegor and Pelagea are similar. They rely on others. They are not their own boss. Though Yegor acts as though he is his own lord of the manor. However the reality is very different. If anything Yegor oozes confidence though he doesn’t really have any right to brag to Pelagea and compare his life to hers. Both are servants whether Yegor likes it or not. The only difference is that Yegor has a little bit more independence and is allowed to walk the land while he works while Pelagea has a set job to do in a more restricted space. Which again may symbolically play on the role of women at the time the story was written. Just as Pelagea might be restricted to working in a field or in the hut minding a baby Chekhov may be suggesting that the role for women in Russian society was not one of equality with men. Women did not have the same independence as men.

The setting of the story may also be important as very little actually happens. Which in many ways mirrors Yegor and Pelagea’s relationship. If anything there is a sense of paralysis within their relationship. Though there is no doubting that Pelagea wishes for the relationship to be more progressive. Yegor on the other hand does not see any point in pursing his marriage with Pelagea. It might also be important that Yegor has another love interest, Akulina. It is as though Pelagea has been totally forgotten by Yegor even though they are man and wife Yegor not only places very little value on their marriage but he also appears to completely disregard Pelagea as a person. Again Pelagea (woman) is not Yegor’s (man) equal. If anything Pelagea has nothing to offer Yegor at least this is what Yegor thinks. Which may suggest that Yegor is being selfish and not honouring the vows he made when he got married. Even if he got married when he was drunk.

The end of the story is also interesting as Chekhov appears to be exploring the theme of regret and letting go. Yegor has no regrets and suffers no guilt when it comes to abandoning Pelagea. It simply doesn’t register in his mind that he may have done something wrong. Rather Yegor has moved on and found love with Akulina. Though the reader gets no clear insight from Chekhov as to how that relationship is progressing. The only thing the reader does know is that there is another relationship. It may also be important that Pelagea appears to be unable to let go of Yegor. Something that is noticeable by her inability to turn away from Yegor when he walks away. Instead Pelagea stares at Yegor as he walks down the long road. Her gaze firmly fixed on him. The fact that Pelagea also stands on her tiptoe to look at Yegor in the distance highlights further Pelagea’s inability to let go of Yegor. Though he has treated her poorly she still none the less loves him with all her heart. Though as to why is unclear as Yegor has not been a supportive or even caring husband. He has abandoned Pelagea and left her to struggle on her own. Maybe the rouble that Yegor hands Pelagea is given out of guilt. Though the reader cannot be certain. The only thing that we can be certain of is the fact that Yegor has not honoured his commitments as a husband. Preferring to live his life as free as he can. Yet ironically he is not a free man. He is reliant on his employer or master for employment.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Huntsman by Anton Chekhov." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 7 Sep. 2017. Web.

2 comments

  • I have just read the Rosamund Bartlett translation in the 2014 Norton Critical Edition. What a remarkable story!
    Some observations —
    #1. You mention Akulina, another woman in the limited local community.
    How does Pelageya, a mere peasant woman, know of her?
    It would seem they are in the same low social class, & are friends or workmates of a sort. Yegor knows both women — is married to Pelageya & is interested enough in Akulina to have built her a hut. Yet, later in the story he says he has no reason to visit the area — “Don’t have any reason to come.”
    #2. Yegor brags of being a superlative huntsman, but evidence in the story questions this.
    1] His bag for the end of an apparently long day includes only “a squashed black grouse.” What an odd description! Why is it “squashed”? Is it some sort of road kill?
    2] His dog is said to be a “scraggly old dog”, which suggests he is not a good enough hunter to warrant a finer animal.
    3] On p. 38 we are told he carries a “cocked double-barrelled gun”, which we presume is a shotgun; they are frequently double-barrelled — & he has somehow bagged that grouse; grouse are typically hunted with such a gun, rather than a rifle.
    4] What kind of a huntsman walks down a country road with BOTH barrels of his gun cocked? If game appears, it takes less than a moment to cock one side of the gun & to shoot if conditions permit. And then only 1 barrel is typically discharged.
    5] Walking with even 1 barrel of a gun cocked is a mark of a very careless hunter. And no mention of un-cocking the gun occurs when they sit down to visit.
    6] Yet, on p. 41 they see 3 “wild ducks fly over the clearing.” They land near enough for Yegor to follow them with his gaze & to note they land near enough for him to pursue them. Why doesn’t he pursue them?
    7] On p. 41, as he prepares to leave Pelageya, we are told Yegor “slings his rifle over his shoulder.” What happened to his double-barrelled shotgun? Why is this apparent error here? Is it a mistake made by the likely non-hunting lady translator? Or did Chekhov just throw in such a contradiction to urge us to examine Yegor, the supposedly superb hunter, more closely?
    #3. On p. 42 Chekhov pointedly tells us that “the road is as long and straight as an out-stretched belt.” And we have been told that Yegor is in a hurry. So — why then, as Pelageya watches him almost disappear in the distance, does she see that Yegor “suddenly takes a sharp right turn into the clearing and his cap disappears in the foliage.”? So — Why did he leave the road? We know he is not after more game — he might have pursued the 3 ducks that flew low overhead just minutes before. What else might he be pursuing? How about a quick visit to … Akulina?
    #4. That may take us back to when he is starting to part with Pelagaya. She watches him begin to walk away, but something about his face & his tensed shoulders makes him pause. He then gives her a “worn ruble note.” Why? Does he feels some guilt about their relationship? I interpret this subtle ending to — his plan to make a quick visit to Akulina.
    #5. The complex of emotions that besiege Pelageya as she watches this rascal disappear is palpable. She watches long enough to see what his intent is regarding this other woman. Yet she feels love for him.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thank you Scott for this remarkable insight. You have a better understanding of the story than I have.

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