The Looking-Glass by Anton Chekhov
In The Looking-Glass by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of devotion, loneliness, escape, fear, love, dedication, hope, defeat and independence. Taken from his Selected 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. Though Nellie’s account of what is happening in the story is fictional (it never happens and is a dream) it is obvious that she is very much in love with the man that she chooses to be her husband. As to why Nellie might feel the need to escape into a dream may also be important as it could suggest that at present she is discontent with her life, if not lonely. The looking-glass provides Nellie with an outlet to escape from the life that she is living. A life in whereby she is a single, unattached woman who longs to find a man who will love her and who she too can love. In essence Nellie is seeking happiness through marriage. Though some critics may suggest that Nellie is dependent on a man to achieve happiness it is important to remember that the story was written in the 1880s and for many women the only avenue they had to improve their outlook in life was marriage. Nellie would be no different to many of the women at the time the story was written.
Chekhov also appears to be exploring the theme of devotion and the lengths that Nellie will go to in order to save her husband’s life. She travels through the night to get to Dr Lukitch’s home and attempts to persuade him to return with her to her house in order to help her husband. Nellie’s dialogue with Dr Lukitch is also important for two reasons. Firstly she will not take no for an answer which further suggests that Nellie is devoted if not dedicated to her husband. The second reason that Nellie’s conversation with Dr Lukitch is important is because the reader can sense just how afraid Nellie is. She is afraid that her husband will die. The result being that Nellie will be alone again. Which the reader is already aware makes Nellie unhappy. If anything Nellie is persistent when it comes to Dr Lukitch, she is driven by her love and devotion to her husband. Though it is important to remember again that Nellie is dreaming and each action that occurs in the story when it comes to Nellie’s husband is a moment of hope or aspiration with Nellie longing for an alternative life to the one that she lives.
As Chekhov gives no real background to Nellie’s life it is difficult to say for certain as to why she might want to escape from the world that she knows. It is possible that she is of the age when it is expected for a woman to get married. It might also be a case that Nellie feels bored with her life and longs for a man’s company. Though again it is difficult to say for certain. One thing however that is clear is that should Nellie marry (in real life) she may very well give her all to her husband just as she is doing in her dream. Nellie appears to equate happiness to being married which again would have been common at the time the story was written. Though Nellie is acting independently of others in the story (she chooses to go to the doctor) she may not necessarily be able to live her life independently of her husband. With society dictating that a wife’s place is beside their husband. Though this may not necessarily bother Nellie considering that she is very much in love.
The end of the story is also interesting as Nellie doesn’t give up after she realises that Dr Lukitch has also come down with typhus. Rather she remains undefeated and begins her journey to the Zemstvo doctor. It is also interesting that doubt begins to set in for Nellie. Prior to her dream ending she begins to question what life might really be. How an individual can die. How a bank can repossess a home should a person fall behind in payments. In essence the reality of life sets in for Nellie just as the looking-glass breaks. No longer is she seeing a reflection of all her hopes and aspirations but rather through the other looking-glass she is seeing her own reflection. Nellie has stopped dreaming and is facing the realities of life. Realities that do not necessarily disturb Nellie despite having previously longed to be married. There is a sense that Nellie is content with her situation and is fully aware that what has occurred has been no more than a dream. Whether Nellie pursues her dream is difficult to say such is her relief at the end of the story. She may very well marry in the future though it is also possible that she may focus on herself rather than on a husband and family. At the end of the story Nellie realises that she does not necessarily need a husband to be happy.