The Darling by Anton Chekhov

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In “The Darling”, Anton Chekhov pairs a critical narrator with a static, one-dimensional main character to make a point about women in 19th century Russian society. He portrays Olenka as a woman who acquires her self-identity and sense of self-worth by making her current husband’s ideas her own, and he uses a narrator who continually criticizes Olenka for not having a thought on her own. Chekhov implies that truly interesting women achieve social and intellectual equality to men. The story’s main character, Olenka, however, possesses enough beauty to attract many men yet loses them to fate.
Olenka acquires her self-identity and sense of self-worth by many making her current husband’s ideas as her own. Her naïve, repetitious cloning of thoughts jumps from man to man. Her first husband, Ivan Petrovitch or Kukin, was a manager at the open- aired theater called the Trivoli, and although Olenka handled the accounts and paid the wages she still fell victim to her mimic tendencies. “And what Kukin said about the theatre and the actors she repeated” (Chekhov 106). Allowed an additional opportunity from the author, to start again on her own, Olenka marries once more, this time, to Vassily Andreitch Pustovalo, a manager at Babakayev’s, a timber merchant. Yet again, she oversaw the accounts and books orders but opts to simply mirror her second husband’s behavior. “Her husband’s ideas were hers. If he thought the room was hot, or that business was slack, she thought the same.” (107) It seems as though in this relationship Olenka plunges deeper into a well of plagiaristic thoughts absent of autonomy. Once more, her husband passes away and Olenka is left alone, but before long she meets a married man, Smirnin, a veterinary surgeon....

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... and presents them as stupid, boring, unwitty, plain, and worst of all, unopinioned. Olenka was beautiful, what an extraordinary beauty to have, given every opportunity to advance herself as an individual. She came from an educated family, her husbands allowed her the rare freedom to run their companies, yet she choose to do nothing with her talents and just collect their thoughts. This static character refuses complexity and rejects all opportunity to grow. “The Darling”, transformed from a fable to a social statement about the Russian woman during the 1900’s. Through the use of narration, Chekov, cleverly suggests that woman should be something more, robust with depth. A woman with confidence, self worth, and intellect fortify a woman as her youth fades. It’s possible that Chekhov believed, that women should be something more than just, “darling”.

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