Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Anton Chekhov
  • 0:44 Plot Summary
  • 2:51 Meaning & Symbolism
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

'Gooseberries' is a short story by the iconic Russian author Anton Chekhov who wrote it in 1898, near the end of his life. The title is deceptively simple, as the story itself raises some important philosophical questions.

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov, who lived from 1860 to 1904, is one of the most recognized names in modern Russian literature. Though he died near the beginning of the twentieth century, his writing style reflected a more introspective mood and a focus on small details characteristic of Modernism. Chekhov's plays and short stories stand in contrast to the realism that audiences and readers previously expected. Partly for this reason, his works are challenging to read and understand for contemporary readers as well.

''Gooseberries'' is one of Chekhov's later works, published in 1898. This information may help you understand the rather melancholy, philosophical tone of this particular story.

Plot Summary

''Gooseberries'' is a frame story. In a frame story, one fictional character tells a story in the context of the larger plot. In this case, the man Ivan Ivanich tells a story about his brother, Nicholai, while spending time with his two friends.

The frame part of the story begins with Ivan and his friend, Bourkin, walking in the fields near the Russian village of Mirousky. Ivan is just about to begin his story about Nicholai when the overcast day becomes a rainy one. The two friends decide to take shelter at the farm of another friend, Aliokhin.

When they arrive, their farmer friend is happy to see them and offers them a bath and a change of clothes. They all use a bathing shed to get clean and then swim about in the river, after which, Ivan begins the story of his brother.

First, he tells them about Nicholai's dream of buying property and the specific items he planned to own, which always included a gooseberry bush. To save for his future dream, Nicholai lived meagerly and literally starved his poor wife to death.

Nicholai finally got his dream of owning land, and Ivan went to pay him a visit. Nicholai had changed since becoming a country landowner, eating too much and lazing about. Ivan tells his two friends that his brother put on airs as a landowner and took advantage of the local peasantry, just as all landowners can be expected to do. It's important here for contemporary readers to understand the state of affairs in Russia at that time. In terms of power and wealth, there was a great deal of inequality among the population.

The gooseberries come into the story during Ivan's reported visit to his brother. Nicholai has gooseberry bushes that are just then producing fruit. As Ivan tells it, Nicholai is overly enthusiastic about the berries and eats them greedily through the night.

As Ivan tells the story to his friends, he philosophizes about the nature of happiness and the value of achieving one's personal dream. According to Ivan, it's more important for those who are still young and able, like Aliokhin, to fight for the good of all than to seek personal satisfaction. The story ends with the three friends staying the night in the farmhouse, and the rain continuing to fall.

Meaning & Symbolism

Identifying the hidden meaning or symbolism in some key quotes may help your overall understanding of ''Gooseberries.'' One set of quotes that foreshadows the story about Nicholai and his self-indulgent ways comes when the men are bathing and swimming at Aliokhin's farm. Ivan continues to splash about and enjoy the water when the other two are ready to go in the house.

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