The Husband by Anton Chekhov
In The Husband by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of escape, hope, happiness, paralysis, fear and control. Taken from his 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 escape. The ladies in the town look forward to the arrival of the regiment. It affords them the opportunity to escape from their dreary lives. Anna is no different to any other woman in the town. Something that is noticeable when she is dancing. She forgets, as the other women do too, that she is a married woman. She ignores Shalikov completely which results in Shalikov becoming spiteful and angry. He does not understand that Anna is unhappy in her marriage and that she longs to escape from the monotony she feels while married to Shalikov. Shalikov on the other hand tries to control Anna and even threatens to embarrass her by causing a scene. Knowing full well that Anna does not want to be embarrassed in front of her dancing partner. Though some critics might suggest that Anna’s actions are wrong. It might be important to remember that she has hopes and aspirations that are not being met.
Throughout the story Shalikov cannot let go of the fact that Anna is enjoying herself. Though Chekhov suggests that Shalikov is not jealous. This is difficult to believe. He is no more than a spiteful man who has settled to a life that he does not like and as such Anna will not be allowed to enjoy herself in any way. It is imperative to Shalikov that he controls Anna, not allowing her any type of free will. Which may be the point that Chekhov is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that some women marry men who they eventually no longer love and as such attempt to escape into a different world. One in whereby they feel content and happy. Just as Anna is when she is dancing. It is only when she is told by Shalikov to go home that Anna begins to feel sad. Prior to Shalikov’s intervention she was quite happy dancing and was able to forget about the life she was living with Shalikov. The soldiers are much more exciting to Anna and Shalikov knows this. Which may explain as to why he is so spiteful.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which is important. Anna and Shalikov live in a provincial town where nothing happens. It is as though their life is paralysed. Even the shopkeepers get excited because they know that the regiment will spend money in the town. It is a profitable affair for them and for the women of the town who get a chance to relieve their boredom and their unhappiness with their husbands. Shalikov is not the only husband who is displeased with the regiment’s arrival. There are others too who remain silent and hoping that the regiment will leave soon. In fact there is a whole table of disgruntled husbands who might react as Shalikov has if they were forced to or if they were unable to control their emotions. In reality the regiment takes precedence over everything else. Even marriages, happy or not.
The end of the story is interesting as Shalikov remains in complete control as he and Anna are walking home. Anna wants to say something to scorn Shalikov but she loses the will to fight. If anything Anna becomes submissive to Shalikov. She has given up on the evening and allowed Shalikov to control her. As to why she doesn’t rebuke Shalikov when she has the opportunity is difficult to say. Perhaps Chekhov is highlighting the role women played in a marriage. It is possible that women were only allowed to be happy if their husbands were not happy and Shalikov is not happy. It might also be a case that Anna is afraid of Shalikov and knows what he is capable of (embarrassing her). The brief moment of happiness that Anna felt while dancing is no longer. She has been brought down to earth by a spiteful husband who is more concerned about how he feels than how Anna feels. The most important person in Shalikov’s life appears to be himself. He has to be in control at all times even if that means upsetting Anna. In reality there is no avenue of escape for Anna. Though she enjoyed dancing she knows that she will continue to be controlled by Shalikov.