The Trousseau by Anton Chekhov
In The Trousseau by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of fear, apprehension, hope, aspiration, selfishness and marriage. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of fear. There is a sense that Madame Tchikamassoff is afraid when the narrator comes to visit her. She is unsure of what his intentions might be which causes her to be apprehensive. Though Chekhov never gives any reason as to why Madame Tchikamassoff may be apprehensive about a visitor calling to her home if the setting is taking into account, with the house hidden away, it is possible that Madame Tchikamassoff does not like visitors and views them at first as being similar to bad omens. It is also noticeable that all four women in the house are working on Manechka’s trousseau which suggests that Manechka has hopes and aspirations to one day be married. Though it is not explicitly stated in the story Manechka might wish to escape from the environment of her parents’ home. Having reached an age when it is expected for a young woman to marry. Though it may also be important to remember that Manechka has no suitors. Chekhov making no mention of any gentlemen calling on Manechka. Which could suggest that Manechka is somewhat innocent and optimistic when it comes to getting married. Though she is still nonetheless keen to do so.
The absence of both Gregory and General Tchikamassoff for most of the story may also be important. Though Gregory lives in the house he does not socialise with any visitors to the house. It is possible that by excluding both men from the main of the story that Chekhov is suggesting that when it comes to marriage women play the predominate role, organising and arranging things. Which is very much the case for Manechka and Madame Tchikamassoff. It is left to them to fill Manechka’s trousseau with items of finery and clothing. It might also be a case that Chekhov by having both Gregory and General Tchikamassoff absent is also symbolically suggesting that there will be no man or husband in Manechka’s life. She may never get married something that she is fully aware of herself. There is also a sense that Manechka is reliant on the trousseau. As if it is an essential part or requirement in her getting married. It is something that she can bring to a marriage and is something that his hers and represents her. Though Gregory does not appear to think like this. Something that is noticeable by his continued giving away of items from the trousseau in the belief that he is helping others and in turn is ensuring his entry into the monastery. Though the reality is that throughout the story Gregory shows no good qualities. Thinking only of himself. Though Chekhov does suggest that Gregory’s mentality may be a result of the things he witnessed while in the army.
Of all the characters in the story the reader would have sympathy with two. Madame Tchikamassoff and Manechka. Both are constantly at work trying to prepare things for Manechka’s trousseau. They are looking forward towards the future while General Tchikamassoff represents the past as can be seen on the narrator’s final visit when he notices a portrait of the general on the wall. Also Gregory represents the past having spent his time in the army and isolating himself from others. Though it is difficult to say for certain what Gregory’s condition may be it is possible that he is unable to let go of his past. He may be shell shocked from his experiences in the army. Though that does not necessarily explain his selfishness which is driven by his desire to enter the monastery. He is in reality thinking about himself while Madame Tchikamassoff is thinking about Manechka.
The ending of the story is also interesting if not somewhat ambiguous. Due to Manechka’s absence it is hard to know if she has finally fulfilled her wish and gotten married. Though the fact that Madame Tchikamassoff is dressed in mourning may suggest she is grieving the loss of Manechka. As to how Manechka might have died is left to each individual reader to decide though it may be a case that she has committed suicide. Having waited so long to get married and never marrying she may have given up all hope of getting married. The fact that Gregory continued to give away the items from the trousseau may also have contributed to Manechka’s death. The Trousseau was her life it embodied all her hopes and aspirations and just as the trousseau was left empty by Gregory so too were Manechka’s dreams. The act of a selfish man may have taken away the life of a young woman who wanted nothing more than to be married. To live her life as someone’s wife, to live her dream of being a happily married woman. Not only has Gregory’s actions changed the course of Manechka’s life but Madame Tchikamassoff now lives her life alone too.