Essay, Research Paper: Chekhov And Ibsen

Literature: Anton Chekhov

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A play serves as the author's tool for critiquing society. One rarely encounters
the ability to transcend accepted social beliefs. These plays reflect
controversial issues that the audience can relate to because they interact in
the same situations every day. As late nineteenth century playwrights point out
the flaws of mankind they also provide an answer to the controversy. Unknowingly
the hero or heroine solves the problem at the end of the play and indirectly
sends a message to the audience on how to solve their own problem. Henrik Ibsen
and Anton Chekov both provide unique analysis on issues their culture never
thought as wrong. In the play A Doll's House Ibsen tackles women's rights as a
matter of importance being neglected. In his play he acknowledges the fact that
in nineteenth century European life the role of the women was to stay home,
raise the children, and attend to her husband. Chekov illustrates the role of a
dysfunctional family and how its members are effected. Both of the
aforementioned problems are solved through the playwrights' recommendations and
the actions of the characters. In the plays A Doll's House and Uncle Vanya the
authors use realism to present a problem and solution to controversial societal
issues. While both plays mainly concentrate on the negative aspects of culture,
there are positive facets explored by the playwrights. In A Doll's House Henrik
Ibsen focuses on the lack of power and authority given to women, but through
Nora we also see the strength and willpower masked by her husband Torvald. To
save her husband's life Nora secretly forges her father's signature and receives
a loan to finance a trip to the sea. Nora's naivety of the law puts her in a
situation that questions her morality and dedication. Nora is not aware that
under the law she is a criminal. She believes that her forgery is justified
through her motive. She is not a criminal like Krogstad because his crime was
simply a moral failing and not for the good of his family. A morally unjustified
crime is the only type of crime. Nora's believes that her love for her husband
is what propelled her to sign her father's name and pass it off as his own.
Nora's motive is to save her husband's life and keeping it secret is to save him
from pain and humiliation. If he knew, it would hurt his "manly
independence" (p. 22) and upset Nora and Torvald's "mutual
relations" (p.22). Nora knows that without forging her father's signature
she would not be able to save her husband. Nora uses her wit to find a way to be
able to overcome the shackles placed on her by society and get enough money to
save Torvald's life. In Uncle Vanya Chekov ends the play with Sonya and Uncle
Vanya returning to their normal lifestyle and forgetting about the upset
Serebryakov and Elena's presence creates. Sonya protests that she and her uncle
"will bear patiently bear the trials fate sends" (Chekov p. 230) and
"work for others" (p. 230). Sonya sacrifices her own happiness for
that of her father and stepmother. Sonya exudes every positive trait that
society contains. She sacrifices her life to work for her father without
questioning his motives for leaving. She dedicates herself to her family and
overlooks their flaws to help them. Sonya, Uncle Vanya, and Nora's make
sacrifices for the love of their family members and do so without questions. The
sacrifices made by the positive characters are far outweighed by the actions of
their counterparts. Torvald sees Nora's only role as being the subservient and
loving wife. He refers to Nora as "my little squirrel" (Ibsen p.12),
"song-bird" (p. 33) or "skylark" (p. 40). To him, she is
only a possession. Torvald calls Nora by pet-names and speaks down to her
because he thinks that she is not intelligent and that she can not think on her
own. Whenever she begins to voice an opinion Torvald quickly drops the pet-names
and insults her as a women. When Nora asks if he can reinstate Krogstad at the
bank he claims that she only asks because she fears that he will suffer the same
fate as her father. Nora realizes that living with Torvald prevents her from
being a real person. He treats her as a doll because that is what he wants. He
does not want a wife who will challenge him with her own thoughts and actions.
The final confrontation between the couple involves more oppression by Torvald,
but by this time Nora has realized the situation he wishes to maintain. Torvald
calls her "childish" (p. 70) and "ungrateful" (p. 68) even
though she saved his life. Nora expected Torvald to be grateful to her, when
this does not happen she decides that the only way to fix the situation is to
leave him and her children and find herself independently. Nora wants Torvald to
take the blame for the forgery and realize that how he treats her is not the way
a husband should treat his wife. When he doesn't take the blame she knows that
independence is the only answer and so she leaves. The oppression of women
caused many women to believe that their duty in life was only to be a wife.
Ibsen provides a narrative on one woman's plight to find her purpose in life. In
Uncle Vanya the wrong that is committed is not directed toward one character,
but two. Serebryakov dumps the burden of his lifestyle onto his daughter and
brother-in-law. Only at the end of Serebryakov's and Elena's stay at the family
estate is it realized that everyone is miserable. Elena who has been married
into this family is the only person who at once comprehends her unhappiness.
Sonya tells her stepmother that she is "so happy" (Chekov p. 201).
Sonya has yet to grasp that her father only leaves her at the estate to help
make money so he can finance his expensive lifestyle. Serebryakov is concerned
with his position in society. He marries a young and beautiful woman and tries
to move ahead in life using money. He ignores emotions, even the misery that he
feels. In the late nineteenth century rank was determined by who one married and
how much money one's family had. Serebryakov exemplifies this lifestyle by only
trying to move ahead in society to the point of sacrificing anything to get to
the to top, even his daughter. These two families point out societies flawed
traditions and the subsequent effect upon these people. In presenting these
problems the authors end their plays with a solution to the characters'
unhappiness. Ibsen was the first author in Europe to tackle the issue of women's
place in the world and label it as wrong. Nora's realization of Torvald's part
in her misery allows her to leave him. She does not fully blame Torvald for her
unhappiness, but she knows that she can't be happy with him. Her expectation of
"the most wonderful thing" (Ibsen p. 72) leaves her with the knowledge
that Torvald will never change. Nora becomes cognizant of the mistreatment she
has endured, and consequently leaves to become someone different. Ibsen
encourages women to make a change by taking action and not to watch their life
pass by unfulfillingly. Nora becomes a role model for change. Chekov on the
other hand does not solve his characters' problem in Uncle Vanya. He ends the
play where it began, without resolution. Sonya and Uncle Vanya take on the
burden of running the estate for Serebryakov without reimbursement while he
lives abroad and enjoys the riches of life. Uncle Vanya cries while Sonya talks
about how hard they will work for her father and expect nothing in return.
Unlike Nora, Sonya accepts her life and does not make any change. She does not
even try to change the family in which she was born . She believes that if she
does what is asked of her she will be rewarded in afterlife. Chekov lets Sonya
further entrench herself in the problem. The audience knows from Uncle Vanya's
tears that Sonya's decision is not the right one. In A Doll's House and Uncle
Vanya the audience gathers a picture of what it was like to live in the late
eighteen hundreds. This picture is not a positive one. More wrongs are committed
against the characters of these plays than any sort of reward for the hardships
they endure. These plays reflect an accurate representation of the society that
existed when they were written. Nora and Sonya find that they are trapped in a
world that they do not belong in. Nora finds a way out and Sonya waits for a new
world to come along and rescue her. Society oppressed both families by masking
the truth of their lives for so long. Chekov and Ibsen contribute to the
solution by providing their plays as examples of why Europe was wrong.

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