Chekhov Stories

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full titles Agafya;The Black Monk;The Darling;The Grasshopper;Gooseberries;In the Ravine;Lady with the Dog;My Life (The Story of a Provincial);On Official Duty (On Official Business); The Night Before Easter (On Easter Eve); Steppe; and Ward No. six

author  Anton Chekhov

type of work  Fiction

genre  Short story

language  Russian (first translated into English in 1903); makes use of regional dialects and class accents

time and place written  Between 1886 and 1901 in Moscow and Yalta, Russia,

date of first publication  Stories published in various journals and periodicals from 1886 onward; first published in English in 1903

publisher  Literary journals such as the "New Times"

narrators  Mostly third-person narration, but Chekhov occasionally uses self-referential narration (e.g. in Agafya,The Night Before Easter, and Ward No. six)

climaxes  There are dramatic climaxes in Chekhov's stories, but the author tends to focus on the minor details and commonalities of people's lives. Mostly these climaxes involve moments when characters question their own morality, and they occur toward the middle of tales. For example, Olga in The Grasshopper and Dr. Ragin in Ward No. six both experience moments of revelation when they realize that they have deluded themselves about the way things really are. Sometimes climaxes occur at the end of stories—as in The Black Monk, where Kovrin hallucinates while hemorrhaging to death—but this happens less often than you would expect. For the most part, Chekhov plays on our expectations and leaves us guessing about how things will work out—obvious examples being The Lady with the Dog,The Darling, and Steppe.

protagonists  Chekhov's protagonists traverse the social spectrum of Russian society: they can be young or old, male or female, sane or insane, landowners or peasants. He uses a depressive physician in Ward No. six (Dr. Rabin); an artistic lunatic in The Black Monk (Kovrin); and a homesick nine year-old in Steppe (Yegorushka). To contrast, there is a social outcast in My Life (Misail); a miserly, conceited landowner in In the Ravine (Grigori Tsybukin); a man who protests against conceited landowners in Gooseberries (Ivan); and a dissatisfied young bureaucrat in On Official Duty (Lyzhin). Chekhov's female characters are just as diverse: he uses a foolish but affectionate widow in The Darling (Olga); a disaffected young wife in Lady with the Dog; and a social butterfly in The Grasshopper (Olga). There are also two anonymous narrators, both of whom seem to be members of the gentry, in Agafya and The Night Before Easter.

setting (time)  Late 19th century Imperial Russia

setting (place)  Set mostly in anonymous provincial towns and the Russian countryside

points of view  The author rarely adopts an authorial voice and prefers to switch between the perspectives of his characters, which can be flighty, serious, depressed, manic or innocently childlike

falling action  Often, the tales end anti-climactically or Chekhov leaves us to guess what will happen next. The Lady with the Dog and Steppe conclude suddenly, forcing readers to imagine what the likely outcome to events will be

tense  Immediate past, although the present tense is briefly used in the opening to Ward No. six

tone  Chekhov mixes pathos with humor to evoke an ironic yet sensitive authorial tone.

themes  Death and disease; disillusionment and failed ideals; the breakdown of aristocratic society

motifs  Communication and non-communication; the natural world

symbols  The night sky; food and drink

foreshadowing  There is some use of foreshadowing in Chekhov's tales, although readers are mostly given clues to guess at what might happen next. However, some examples include Dr. Ragin's conversations with Gromov in Ward No. six, which foreshadow the doctor's later incarceration in the asylum, and Kovrin's visions of "the black monk," which prefigure his final descent into lunacy.