Good Essay On Enemies By Anton Chekhov
The “Enemies” is a short story by Anton Chekhov written in 1887.
This is a story not only about how easy it is to offend a person, but also on how this resentment can exist for many years. It is about the fact that most "dark" emotions which only can be experienced by a person are able to be present in one`s mind for a very long time. This is a story about emotions. It is about the negative emotions. Once a person inadvertently offends another one, and this resentment for a long time will settle in the latter. Anger will replace grievance. And they will remain in a person forever. An individual will not even notice them until it's too late. For the strongest emotions are the negative emotions. And they are people`s real enemies
Short story "Enemies" by Chekhov draws to its readers an existential situation, which is combined with the conflict of a different kind – showdown of the personal and social relationships. The only son of Dr. Kirilov dies. Immediately after his death, Kirilov has to go on call of landowner Abogin, whose wife had a heart attack. However, upon arrival at the place it turns out that Abogin`s wife played her husband and pretended to be ill to run away from her husband. The story ends with mutual unfair accusations of both Abogin and Kirilov, and the author's position is explicitly mentioned almost at the very end of the story, which appears to be an "above the fray" position:
Abogin and the doctor stood face to face, and in their wrath continued flinging undeserved insults at each other. I believe that never in their lives, even in delirium, had they uttered so much that was unjust, cruel, and absurd. The egoism of the unhappy was conspicuous in both (Chekhov, 1887).
It would seem that the author's intentions are very clear, there can be no dispute about this story. However, we believe that there is a certain discrepancy between the author's "declaration" and "figuration" of the story – between the genre and rhetorical systems which form the basis of this story. The identification of the latter may contribute to a deeper understanding of the story.
The story "Enemies" is completely built on contrasts: aristocraticism and ignobility; safe idleness and working poverty; "aesthetics" and "ethics"; amateur art and the indifference to it by the naturalist; grace, even beauty and ugly callus; maximum excitation and maximum insensitivity, light and darkness. Rhetoric, at first glance, is included in these oppositions: the behavior and the words of Abogin are obviously rhetorical and Kirilov refers to Abogin`s rhetoric with contempt. However, later in this story we will see that this obviousness needs adjustments.
The main contrast, which organizes and exceeds all others, is the opposition of the two dominant genres: romance vs. journalistic discourse. In terms of our approach, this story is like the crossing of the two discourses.
Melodramatic plot of Abogin`s story can be recovered from the text of the story: a rich aristocrat, an amateur musician, who fell in love with a woman, apparently, standing below him on the social ladder. For her sake, he "quarrelled with [his] own people", “[has] given up the service and music” and went to his estate, but after a while his wife tired of life in the village and ran away with a certain "buffoon, a dull-witted clown" Paptchinsky (Chekhov, 1887). But before that she played a heart attack to temporarily remove her husband out of the house.
Plays with such plots were on all stages during Chekhov's theatrical time period, a period of decline of the drama and the dominance of "everyday melodrama". These plays were based on story templates, and in the sequence of Abogin`s actions it is easy to see the necessary motivation functions of such a scheme, "shortage", "temptation", "new life", "frustration", "new temptation", "crash", " forgery" and others. Interestingly, even the doctor so distant from art accurately identifies aesthetic dominant of Abogin`s life:” If you are so puffed up with good living that you go and get married and then act a farce like this, how do I come in?” (Chekhov, 1887).
The main topic of Russian mundane melodrama, the basis of its conflict and the guarantee of the interest of the viewers – is the destruction of the family. As a rule, this subject was treated by various dramaturgists in almost the same way: the family is being destroyed in order to overcome the inertia of quiet existence, which afflicts both spouses, and to open alternative to other life. In the plot structure of a melodrama of those years, a romantic archetype of fleeing to a utopian "new world" was widely spread, which, however, was just as boring as the first – hence is the "serials" of melodrama. Flight and pain from it were that ideal "life" in the presentation of melodrama. Plot clichés met the specific psychology and rhetoric of plays` heroes. Emotional teleology of a melodrama – is maintenance of continuous sympathy of audience for the hero. The main means of achieving this goal is constant pain on stage, expressed in rhetoric of speech genres, such as complaints and indignation. Suffering in the melodrama is the topic and method of exposure, and the basic psychological characteristic of heroes. The hero of a melodrama sees himself almost exclusively as a "suffering object" – as an object against which the hostile action is directed. Additionally, a melodramatic hero necessarily needs compassion – the listener on the stage and in the audience space, who is imbued with his grief.
With tears in his eyes, trembling all over, Abogin opened his heart to the doctor with perfect sincerity. He spoke warmly, pressing both hands on his heart, exposing the secrets of his private life without the faintest hesitation, and even seemed to be glad that at last these secrets were no longer pent up in his breast. If he had talked in this way for an hour or two, and opened his heart, he would undoubtedly have felt better (Chekhov, 1887).
The whole plot of a regular melodrama can be considered as "reproduction of suffering", its gradual spread – like at a disease – to the whole world of a play. However, in the "Enemies", the doctor refuses to play by the rules of melodrama, in which he plays the role of a "thing", and the usual discourse falls in the eyes of the reader.
The central hero of a melodrama is a complete egoist. He is completely absorbed with his interests, he is able to speak only in monologues that reveal his own suffering. We see Abogin as this type of hero: even in the beginning, when he asks the doctor to go to his diseased wife and tells about her sufferings, he does not forget about his own sufferings as well: “I was afraid I might not find you in I was in a perfect agony as I drove here” (Chekhov, 1887).
Melodramatic self-centeredness fully applies to the characters-the "victims"; although the "victim", in contrast to the "villain" is not alone – usually there is a father, mother, children, devoted friend next to such a person. In Chekhov's story, this rule is specifically violated: Abogin, who has quarreled with his family, betrayed by his wife, his friend and servants, he is alone, but still he must speak out – that is why there is a very inappropriate confession, addressed to Kirilov. The identity of another in melodrama is not taken into account at all, his rile is to bring the overall compassionate effect. Abogin uses doctor as a listener so necessary to him, ignoring the misery and the mood of the interlocutor, and meets protest instead of sympathy.
Purely Chekhovian paradox is that the content of the protest of Abogin and Kirilov are similar: it is a protest against reification. Kirilov said: “My child is dead, <> And here I am forced to play a part in some vulgar farce, to play the part of a stage property!” (Chekhov, 1887). Indeed, the role of the doctor in the melodrama is as well as in the lives of people of Abogin`s social circle – it is purely instrumental. In the course of a regular play a doctor can be asked to help the patient (or, more often in any melodrama, to state the fact of death), and during the melodramatic outpourings of the heart such an additional hero can serve only as a silent compassionate listener.
On the other hand, Abogin is mostly shocked not because of the leave of his wife, but because of his position – that others behaved to him as with a thing:
“If you have ceased to love me and love another -- so be it; but why this deceit, why this vulgar, treacherous trick? <> I do not demand love, but why this loathsome duplicity?” (Chekhov, 1887).
Here operates another law of melodrama: immediately after some critical moment, the "other" in the melodramatic consciousness loses human qualities and may become the opposite of the previous image. Personal identity does not exist for the genre of melodrama, its hero is an act, not a character. Out of this a reversibility of heroes exist in melodramas: the change of the vector of passion or leave of a lover instantly and completely change attitude of such “other” heroes towards the rest of the heroes in the play, by replacing the love with indifference or hatred. The same instantaneous change we can see in Abogin in relation to his wife, who had left him. Heroes of a melodrama live of the moment, the immediate past and the future are closed to them with the affect of the present. Therefore, the "reification" is bidirectional: both the love-lorn, and that who leaves begin to treat each other as things, suffering from it. In Chekhov's story this situation is paradoxical in itself and it is deepened by the fact that not only the protagonist protests, but the doctor as well, who according to melodramatic canons is assigned only a role of the “property”.
The main desire of an individual in Chekhov stories is not to become a “stage property” his characters more and more often protest against reification, but, nevertheless, often become such "properties" – others treat them without regard to their desires: either exploit (as in "Sleepy", "Vanya"), or see them as mistresses, as a “piece of meat” ("Lights", "The Two Volodyas"), or see them as means to an end ("Anna on the Neck"), make it impossible to act independently ("Husband", "Ward number 6") and others. The reasons for this are not only social but also discursive.
Doctor`s protest which bursts with a dissonant into melodrama, it seems, has a very different nature. Indeed, it is primarily a social protest. At this point, the caste antagonism can be observed, about which it was mentioned previously: that socially funded opposition of aristocraticism and ignobility.
But the thing is, that the words of the doctor, also, are not devoid of rhetorical. We note that in the first half of the story, the doctor, who is in a state of shock, is almost always silent and only when necessary he answers Abogin. In the second part, he starts not to just talk but he talks with rhetorically aligned sentences, uses strong comparisons ("vulgar farce", "farce", " love affairs", compares Abogin with a “capon, sluggish from over-feeding”), he uses even journalistic forms ("utrage on personal dignity", "squeezing money out of the poor in your gentlemanly way",” display of humane ideas”), and so on. His words are a public speech:
“I am a doctor; you look upon doctors and people generally who work and don't stink of perfume and prostitution as your menials and mauvais ton; well, you may look upon them so, but no one has given you the right to treat a man who is suffering as a stage property!” (Chekhov, 1887).
In this story we see not just a "dialogue of the deaf", but a dialogue between the two discourses which usually do not fall into one stage or narrative space: melodrama and publicist writing. In such a combination, the limitations of both voice speaking, and with them – the personality at all – reveal.
Meaning of the story that emerges from these considerations, and is suggested by the narrator: people not only do not want, but in principle they cannot understand each other. But the final output of this prevents that sorrow in this story confronts the rhetoric itself.
The only thing that does not contrast, but is ambivalent in the story is grief: the loss of the wife and the death of the only and last son. It formally "unites" the heroes and essentially divides them, and not just makes them deaf to each other, but invalidates any verbal expression.
The death of the son not only brings the doctor and his wife into a state of shock, but also creates what Chekhov called a singular paradox of the "lyricism" of the situation:
“Kirilov and his wife were silent and not weeping, as though besides the bitterness of their loss they were conscious, too, of all the tragedy of their position; just as once their youth had passed away, so now together with this boy their right to have children had gone for ever to all eternity! The doctor was forty-four, his hair was grey and he looked like an old man; his faded and invalid wife was thirty-five. Andrey was not merely the only child, but also the last child.” (Chekhov, 1887).
The word "lyricism" is paradoxical, because the situation to which it applies, by Chekhov, is not expressible in words: “subtle, almost elusive beauty of human sorrow which men will not for a long time learn to understand and describe, and which it seems only music can convey” (Chekhov, 1887). Apart from the word “grief” no other word is appropriate, even if it is sincere and gentle. The composition of the story indicates about this, which introduced from the very beginning in the vacuum of lyrical wordlessness the rhetorical words of Abogin: this man is limited in its language features, and no sincerity can be here to help:
“Abogin was sincere, but it was remarkable that whatever he said his words sounded stilted, soulless, and inappropriately flowery, and even seemed an outrage on the atmosphere of the doctor s home and on the woman who was somewhere dying” (Chekhov, 1887).
Next to the inexpressible grief, the words are powerless, tactless and inappropriate.
Thus, the story "Enemies" appears as a series of interleaved contrasts, which are taken at the highest level of Chekhov`s opposition of rhetoric and grief. Social and psychological contrasts are revealed through wrong rhetoric melodrama and social publicist writing. This speeches in the “Enemies” are inevitably rhetorical. But at the same time the embracing power of rhetoric is denied by an indication at the human experience, which are fundamentally inaccessible for such rhetoric.
For sure, the "Enemies" is not the only Chekhov's story, in which rhetoric and grief are opposed. For example, in the story "Doctor" the hero utters prosecution speech to the mother of a dying child, and the mother is unable to renounce the lie that has become second nature to her.
Other similar examples can be provided from other literature works of Chekhov as well.
Chekhov, Anton. Enemies. 1887. The Literature Network. N.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2015. < http://www.online-literature.com/anton_chekhov/1201/>.