The Student by Anton Chekhov
In The Student by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of connection, paralysis, equality, hope, change, optimism and belief. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Chekhov is using the setting of the story (nature) to express the mood that Ivan feels. This may be important as it suggests that not only is Ivan connected to the land around him but it also dictates how he may feel. The fact that Ivan on several occasions is also described as being numb (by the cold) may also be significant as in many ways the numbness that Ivan feels plays on the theme of paralysis. In Ivan’s eyes there has been no change in Russia in centuries. How he lives today is similar to how many people may have lived around the time of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. There has been no movement in Russia and Chekhov may be attempting to criticize the political regime that existed at the time the story was written. It is possible that he is suggesting that the Tsar is no different to Ivan the Terrible. Poverty remains and people live their lives literally in the dark. There has been no progression in Russia. At least not for Ivan and those around him.
Chekhov further explores the theme of connection when Ivan visits Vasilisa’s home. By retelling the story of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus there is a sense that both Ivan and Vasilisa are connecting with one another. They have a bond or a togetherness based on their religious beliefs. It may also be important that Lukerya spends most of her time silent and staring at Ivan as Chekhov may be not only suggesting that Lukerya is suspicious of Ivan because of her circumstances (beaten by her husband) but he may also be suggesting that women in general at the time the story was written may not necessarily have had a voice and may not have been considered to be equal to men. It is also interesting that all the female characters mentioned in the story are performing domestic duties. This may be significant as Chekhov may be highlighting the fact that at the time it was considered that a woman’s place was in the home. Hidden from society while the male of the family performed other duties more befitting to a man. Again there is no sense of equality in the story between male and female.
There is also a sense of hope in the story. Something that is noticeable when Ivan is walking home after leaving Vasilisa’s home. Rather than being downtrodden in his mood as he had previously been. He starts to see some positivity in life. Something that has been triggered by his telling of the story of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and Vasilisa’s reaction to the story. Symbolically this may be important as Chekhov might be suggesting that there is hope for Russia too. That there may be no need to continue to live under the rule of the Tsar. The fact that Chekhov mentions that Ivan is only twenty two may also be significant as it suggests that not only is he a young man (and optimistic) but he has the capacity to change his situation. Whether that is done through education of revolution is difficult to say but their remains the possibility for change.
It may also be a case that Chekhov is suggesting that an individual can redeem themselves through belief and following the guidelines or instructions that have been laid out in the past. Though it is apparent that the past shapes the present it is also true that the present has the ability to shape the future. By having such an optimistic outlook at the end of the story Chekhov could be suggesting that Peter will not only change his circumstances (and Russia’s) but he may also be fully conscious that he needs to remember the past in order to go forward. It is not coincidental that Chekhov mentions Ivan the Terrible and the long suffering past that many Russian people had to face. All this may change in the future should an individual believe in something or a power greater than any single individual (citizen or Tsar). Chekhov manages to begin the story with a bleak and dark mood and follows through to the end step by step with the mood of the story improving to one of hope and aspiration. Though Ivan may take no action himself Chekhov nonetheless allows for the possibility of someone taking action. Someone who is young and open to change. Someone who is dissatisfied with their way of life or the way they may be treated under the Tsar’s regime. The important thing is that Ivan is open to change and being influenced by outside sources which suggests that things may indeed change. Though Ivan remains unsure of when the change may occur at the end of the story he sees possibilities which is the first step to change.