Uncle Vanya

by: Anton Chekhov

Act IV - Part Two

Voynitsky most clearly suffers in this scene, frantically throwing himself into the monotony of his old routine: as he works at his desk, his speech is absent- mindedly reduced to the counting of bills. As noted in the previous section, the restoration of estate's routine is made concrete in the uncharacteristically detailed stage notes describing Voynitsky's cluttered office. In particular, the map of Africa—clearly out of place—seems an especially telling object. This foreign land is most easily read as a symbol for what Voynitsky's yearns for, the image of that which might have been in a land that has become all too familiar.

In light of objects like the map, it is clear that one should carefully attend to the non-speaking elements of these final scenes. Chekhov's manipulation of these elements—visual as well as aural—are crucial to the scene's carefully crafted nastroenie—the atmosphere or mood that, for Russian critics, serves as the signature of Chekhov's theater. The final tableau is especially crushing: Marina impassively knits, Maria obliviously jots down marginalia, Telegin strums the guitar, and the watchman ominously taps his stick. This resumption of life's monotony effectively seals Vanya and Sonya's fate.

The other notable aspect of this scene is of course Sonya's desperate speech, one that perhaps undermines the many religious platitudes Marina offers throughout the play or, rather, takes them to their logical conclusion. To survive, Sonya and Vanya must relinquish life and await their redemption in death. Only in death will they be able to look backwards and recall the past without regret; to invoke her anguished refrain, only in death will they rest. Again, her celestial fantasy is prefigured more darkly by Astrov earlier in the act when he tells Voynitsky that all they can hope for is that happy visions will come to them when they are dead.