In “The Darling” by Anton Checkhov, a beautiful and charming girl named Olenka is sitting on the steps of her residence. Her neighbor, Kukin, who is also the owner of the Tivoli or theater, begins to complain to Olenka about the constant downpour of rain in the area and how in result, he is unable to put on his shows and make money. Olenka feels pity for the man and it is through those emotions that she falls in love with Kukin. Soon after, they are engaged and are married, but Kukin is unable to cope with the fact of having rain on his wedding day. The two live happily though, and Olenka even begins to assist Kukin with the Tivoli and is it here that she begins the habit of forming opinions based on those of her husbands. Olenka begins to tell her friends of the same issues that Kukin has with the theater including audience interest, almost quoting him. On a business trip to work, Olenka becomes weary and lonely and is in despair when she receives a telegram from a company member informing her that her husband has died. And although discouraged at first, we must not underestimate Olenka’s ability to overcome her loneliness and find a new man. On the way back from church one day, Olenka meets a man named Vasily who tells her his insight on love and faith, making her fall in love with him. He comes to visit her later, and soon after, they are wed. Similarly to her last husband, Olenka begins to take Vasily’s opinions as her own and finds a great liking in lumber, something particular to his character. While Vasily is on business, she finds loneliness but is luckily distracted by her neighbor, Smirnov, a man who has also suffered loss, and again, Olenka feels pity for him. Upon return, Vasily and Olenka decide they want to have children, but Vasily ends up getting very ill from not wearing a hat into the woods and passes away, making Olenka a widow again. And again, Olenka is quickly overtaken with feelings for a veterinarian who instead of allowing her to repeat his opinions, calls her out for it and then leaves her. To her surprise though, Smirnov returns to town with his son, telling Olenka that he listened to her advice and made up with his ex-wife. The little boy begins to bring Olenka much joy as she begins to partake in motherly responsibilities and consider his education. The boy, Sasha, is embarrassed of her though and in the end, screams, “I’ll give it to you! Get away! Quit your scrapping!”
In this piece, I identified the chronic tension as Olenka’s inability to find her own happiness and thoughts without male figures present, and the acute tension as her failed marriages and the sadness she faces from separation, pity, and desperation.
One thing I chose to highlight was Olenka’s tendencies to allow the men in her life to control her emotions such as happiness and self-worth. Chekhov writes:
What she needed was a love that would absorb her whole being, her reason, her whole soul, that would give her ideas, an object in life, that would warm her aging blood.
This line depicts Olenka’s true desire for even the simplest form of human attention, and how when she receives it, she attempts to keep their interest by sharing the same opinions as them. This leaves Olenka as a follower and results in her desperation and confusion when her husbands pass away, leaving her opinion-less and unable to find her own happiness due to the stability they were providing her emotionally.
And what was worst of all, she no longer held any opinions. She saw and understood everything that went on around her, but she could not form an opinion about it. She knew of nothing to talk about. And how dreadful not to have opinions!
I find this very important due to the fact that it introduces inner conflict within Olenka’s character as she begins to realize her lack of individuality and emphasizes the conflict in the end when Olenka is unable to change and finds herself relying on Sasha (the boy) for happiness and content.
The second thing I highlighted was the resistance of the male figures in her life/relationships and how their awareness of her dependency drove them off, unlike the effect it had on Olenka. Although her second husband Vasily showed slight detachment through absence, Olenka remained infatuated with the thought of him and never lost attraction until he passed. Another good example could be noted with the inclusion of the veterinarian’s character and how even after he tells her to not participate and just repeat his opinions, she throws herself at him and apologizes!
“But, Volodichka, what am I to talk about?”
And she threw her arms round his neck, with tears in her eyes, and begged him not to be angry. And they were both happy.
Not only does this provide an obvious indicator to the reader of the issue that Olenka is facing, but also shows how the people in her life are responding to it, providing a possible altercation for a relationship.
In my writing, I tend to focus a lot about external conflicts and how the characters must deal with the issues are presented to them, so reading this piece brought me a lot of insight on internal conflicts such as the one Olenka faces. I felt that Chekhov did a wonderful job at depicting and keeping her desperation constant in order to display her inability to move on and her reliance on other people (which may come from her dad–conspiracy theory!). Overall, I really enjoyed Chekhov’s ability to create a conflict within a character and have the reader discover it at the same time as the other characters.
- What do Sasha’s screams mean in the end?
- Did Olenka truly ever love the vet?
- What differentiates the husbands from Olenka? Aren’t they just as mesmerized by her appearance?