Gurov is the protagonist of Lady with the Dog. Although he denigrates women and refers to them as "the lower race," Gurov secretly admits that he feels more comfortable with them than he does with men. From the story's outset, Gurov searches for distraction outside the bounds of his marriage and stuffy Moscow society. Gurov meets Anna in the resort of Yalta, where both have come to escape their stifling lives. As his relationship with Anna deepens, the protagonist recognizes that he has misrepresented himself to women. With this recognition comes a deeper sense of need and a drive for emotional—rather than material—fulfillment. Back home, Gurov's life seems empty and unrewarding, and he is haunted by the memory of his naïve young lover. As Donald Rayfield notes, Chekhov contrasts Gurov's cynicism and feelings of disillusionment with Anna's idealism and romanticism. In The Lady with the Dog, we witness the changes effected in a man who has fallen in love and then forced to reexamine his views of the world.
Olga is the protagonist of The Darling. Despite being attractive, kind- hearted, and eager to help other people, she is the embodiment of female disempowerment. Because she cannot make up her mind on any issue, Olga adopts her partner's beliefs and thus subordinates her will to the male intellect. Undeniably, the protagonist gains a measure of happiness with her two husbands—the theater-owner Kukin and the timber-merchant Pustovalov—but only because she tailors her outlook on life to accord with their own. The protagonist's nickname is both deeply ironic and pathetic: she is everyone's "darling" and is indulged like a favored pet. Chekhov thus crafts our ambivalent response to his protagonist, who appears both annoying and pitiful. We find that Olga does not evolve within the tale, she only becomes lonelier and more desperate for male affection. Because she cannot turn to her old lover Smirnin for emotional fulfillment, the protagonist focuses all her attention on his little son Sasha. She parrots the schoolboy's opinions and embarrasses her new charge by walking him to school. Readers see that, for all her swiftness at winning other people's affection, Olga will never earn their respect. She remains imprisoned by her own laziness and lack of intellectual autonomy.
Kovrin, the consumptive protagonist of The Black Monk, overlooks his illness in his quest for genius. He possesses a lively, energetic spirit that borders on arrogance. But the truly bizarre side of Kovrin's character only appears when he begins to hallucinate. After envisioning a black monk who tells him that he is one of god's elect, the protagonist evolves from a successful but unfulfilled intellectual to appearing "radiant and inspired." However, everyone agrees that he has a "peculiar look." In this way, Chekhov blurs the distinction between giftedness and raving lunacy. Kovrin believes that he is not just a mastermind, but a man of genius whom god has chosen to aid humanity. We see that, after undergoing psychiatric treatment that results in his becoming embittered and malicious, Kovrin only wants to reclaim the ecstasy he felt as a lunatic. Chekhov thus plays with his readers' reactions to mental illness and shows how Kovrin's psychosis has both positive and negative effects. But these effects become increasingly negative as time passes. The author shows how, as Kovrin descends into madness for the second time, the order of the world breaks down: Tania and the protagonist separate, Yegor dies, and the orchard is ruined. Kovrin himself dies in rapture, convinced of his own genius. Readers are thus left with the impression of a man burdened as well as redeemed by mental illness. To the end, Chekhov's treatment of his protagonist remains ambivalent and nonjudgmental.
Olga is the protagonist in The Grasshopper. She is a fickle socialite, who cultivates friendships with soon-to-be-famous artists, writers, and musicians. The protagonist is also fascinated by celebrity and cultivates a snobbish attitude with regard to artistic genius. Ultimately, however, Chekhov suggests that Olga has misread reality. She becomes disillusioned with her arrogant lover Ryabovsky, and undergoes a moment of desperate self-revelation when Osip becomes sick. At this point, the protagonist recognizes that she has overlooked her husband's genius. At the tale's opening, the narrator states, "no one so much as remembered his existence." But by the end of the story, Olga recognizes that Osip—a quiet but incredibly gifted young surgeon—is the one truly brilliant person she has known.
Dr. Rabin is the protagonist of Ward No. 6. Although initially a caring and attentive physician, Rabin grows indifferent and unresponsive to his patients. He reasons that suffering serves a necessary purpose and argues, "Why hinder people dying if death is the normal and legitimate end of everyone?" The doctor thus justifies his own inaction through "rationalization." However, Rabin grows intrigued by the notion of mistreatment as he begins speaking to the lunatic Gromov. Although he disagrees with Gromov's philosophy, Rabin despairs that the intelligent young man has been incarcerated. The author demonstrates the cruel ironies of fate when the doctor is himself admitted to ward no. six as a lunatic. Unsurprisingly, Rabin soon rejects his stoic philosophy along with his ideas about the necessity of suffering. He becomes convinced of the immortality of the state system and, encouraged by Gromov, creates a disturbance in the ward. Rabin is beaten by the hospital porter for this offense and dies of a stroke the following day. Chekhov uses this plot development to emphasize fate's unpredictability and to condemn the injustices committed under the state's aegis.