Olga Dymov is a socialite who takes care to befriend stars of the artistic, literary, and dramatic worlds. She is praised for the variety of her talents—sketching, singing, playing musical instruments, and acting—but has never become expert at any one skill. It becomes known that Olga met her rather ordinary husband, Osip Stephanych Dymov, when the young man was attending the deathbed of her ailing father; the protagonist fell in love with the doctor's unselfishness and now admires him for his "simplicity, common sense, and good nature."
The narrator describes Olga's daily routine and the ingenious ways in which she caters to her expensive tastes by using her husband's meager earnings. She throws parties every Wednesday night at which her guests "amused themselves with all sorts of artistic pastimes." Osip announces dinner with a gong at these events but is mostly overlooked by all famous people who attend. Having called attention to her husband's wonderful profile and his strengths of character, Olga believes that his only fault lies in the fact that he "isn't interested in art at all." However, the protagonist finds plenty of artistic companionship with her handsome painter friend Ryabovsky. She thus decides to spend the summer in the country painting and to join her artist friends on a group expedition to the Volga in the fall. The narrator shows Osip's devotion to his wife by recounting an incident on the day of White Monday when the doctor decided to bring Olga a picnic in the country. Upon arriving at their country cottage, his wife asked him to immediately return to their town home to pick up a dress that she needed for the next day.
The narrative switches to the artists' trip to the Volga, where Olga and Ryabovsky begin their affair on board a steamer. Although Olga entreats the artist to think about Osip, she begins to think of her husband as being "dull, unnecessary, and far, far away . " Olga and Ryabovsky's tryst continues all through the summer months until September, by which time they have become thoroughly alienated from one another. Olga threatens to kill herself in despair at Ryabovsky's coldness, but she is then swayed to return home by all the endearing letters that Osip has written her. The protagonist boards a steamer and leaves to reclaim her life with her husband.
However, upon returning home, Olga finds that she cannot end her relationship with Ryabovsky. By December, Osip grows suspicious and finds it difficult to look his wife in the eye because he is ashamed at the way she has behaved. His friend Korostelev—"a crop-headed little man with a crumpled face"—is similarly embarrassed. In turn, Olga no longer feigns interest in what Osip is doing and makes no reply to the news that he has defended his thesis and thus gained promotion to "a lectureship in general pathology." Olga is entirely preoccupied by her failing relationship with Ryabovsky, behaves without caution, and often follows Ryabovsky to make sure that he is not seeing her female friends. With a typically dramatic flourish, Olga announces to the artist in reference to her husband, "That man is killing me with his magnanimity!" On the day that the protagonist discovers Ryabovsky has been unfaithful, Osip takes to his bed with diphtheria after treating a young boy for the disease. This jolts Olga out of her self-preoccupation and convinces her that she truly loves her husband. Unfortunately, Korostelev tells Olga that the doctor's prognosis is not good; despite everyone's best efforts, Osip soon dies. Korostelev sits on Olga's bed and cries and announces grandly that Osip has "sacrificed himself to science." Olga realizes, too late, what a brilliant man her husband was and how her indifference helped to hasten his death.
The Grasshopper's protagonist is naïve, high-spirited, and solely concerned with creating the "right kind of impression." At heart, Olga is a social snob who masks her insincerity with an affected interest in the arts. But Chekhov emphasizes that his protagonist's biggest character flaw is to mistake celebrity for genius. Although Osip Dymov may seem insipid and uninspiring in contrast to his wife's glamorous friends, his wife realizes too late that he has simply been modest about his greatness. If this tale has any moral—which would make it highly unusual for a work by Chekhov—it is that those who possess genius do not flaunt their own superiority. We see that true greatness does not have to be courted by sycophantic socialites or paraded around for others to admire: it exists in the minds of those who follow their own ambitions. The fact that Osip is prepared to acknowledge other people's interests marks him as a freethinking and enlightened intellectual—as Osip states to his wife "I don't understand landscapes and operas but that doesn't mean that I refuse to recognize their validity." This open-mindedness contrasts noticeably with the pretentious Ryabovsky, who concludes in a fit of petulance, "everything in the world was conditional, relative, and stupid."
Chekhov shifts between his many characters by telling his story in a series of short chapters. One moment we follow Osip on his trip to the countryside to visit his wife, while in the next we are sailing along the Volga in high summer with Olga and Ryabovsky. Such episodic formatting gives the narrative scope and allows us to glimpse the characters' most private, internal feelings. This is typical Chekhov, suggesting that even the most trivial events in people's lives—such as Osip's trip to the countryside to bring his wife a picnic—are worthy of examination. There is no such thing as an inconsequential incident: Chekhov describes the food people eat, the way they brush their hair, and even the tiny nuances of speech that help us to imagine a real person. Every detail of the characters' lives reveals another facet of their personalities so that more layers of their natures are revealed as we read on. Chekhov is clearly fascinated by the means and the motives behind human interaction, which he manages to explore without passing judgment. For example, when Olga decides to be unfaithful to her husband and dismisses him as a "plain, ordinary man," we see that the author qualifies this harsh sentiment by noting that the young woman's life at home seemed "far, far away." Although none of the characters are entirely admirable—there is no denying that Osip is rather unexciting and lacks sparkle—the author presents their weaknesses along with their strengths to construct real, flawed human beings. No one is without fault, yet no one remains unredeemed by a touch of humanity.
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