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The Darling by Anton Chekhov: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Anton Chekhov's 'The Darling' tells the story of Olga Semyonovna Pleyannikov. Olga needs to be loved. Without it, she becomes an empty shell of herself. By portraying Olga in this manner, Chekhov comments on the need for women to become more independent from their husband and let their individualism shine.

Olga

If our friends, or siblings, repeated the same thoughts and opinions that we have, what would be our reaction? Would we grow tired of them, and seek out others who held different opinions? Or would we appreciate that others think as we do? This is a question Anton Chekhov explores in his short story The Darling. The main protagonist, Olga Semyonovna Plemyannikov repeats and mimics the ideas and opinions of those she loves, particularly her husband.

Olga is a young woman, described as 'meek, soft eyes, and very healthy.' She had a peculiar need. She needs to 'love someone, and can not live without it.' So it was that she loved her father, an aunt, and a teacher. Now that her father has passed away, she inherits the house and lives there alone. She begins a casual acquaintance with the Tivoli amusement garden owner, Ivan Petrovich Kukin.

He complains to her about the rain and how it hinders his business. He fears bankruptcy if the rains don't let up. Eventually, this acquaintance develops into something more, and they are married. Olga mimics the thoughts and opinions of Kukin. She handles all of the business affairs and promotes events with anyone she meets. To Olga, there is nothing outside her husband or his work with the theater. During this time, Olga is referred to as 'darling' by friends, her husband, even the actors.

Pustovalov

Soon, misfortune strikes. Olga receives a telegram late at night informing her that Ivan has passed away while on business in Moscow. She attends to his affairs, but it isn't long before she develops another relationship that leads to marriage. This time it is Vassily Andreich Pustovalov. He was a 'manager of the merchant...lumberyard.' Olga soon became an expert on lumber, and not only assisted her husband with business, but promoted it and complained about the costs and taxes.

In short, Olga once again thinks just as her husband. With Vassily, she even states that the theater is a 'trifle. What's the good of these theaters?' With Vassily, she completely abandons the thoughts and opinions she shared with Ivan. Olga is almost like an empty shell that is filled up by her husband, or person she loves. When they leave or pass away, the shell is emptied, ready to be filled again.

While Vassily is away on business, a veterinarian, Smirnin, discusses a marital problem with Olga. This is a rare moment of Olga expressing her own thought on a matter. She isn't influenced by her husband, or anyone else. She advises Smirnin to 'make peace with (his) wife.' Her life with Vassily continues to be good, and they enjoy six years of married life. Then Vassily passes away. Olga is again alone.

Alone Yet Again

The void in Olga's life is soon filled by Vladimir Platonich Smirnin. Six months after the death of Vassily, Olga is heard dispensing veterinary advice and advocating of 'proper veterinarian supervision in our town.' She is even seen 'having tea in her garden...while (Smirnin) reads the newspaper to her.' It would appear the Olga cannot 'live without an attachment for one year.' This relationship ends quickly when Smirnin's 'regiment is transferred...almost to Siberia.' What is Olga to do?

Chekhov shows what happens when a woman lives solely for her husband and nothing else. Exhibiting neither independence or a separate identity from her husband, Olga is an empty husk that begins to dry up. Olga no longer has anything to say, since she doesn't have a husband to provide her with opinions. Olga begins to 'lose weight and lose her looks.' All the while Olga is alone and shut up in her house, the town begins to grow and expand. It would seem Chekhov is attempting to say something further.

How can a person grow when they are dependent on others for that growth and development? By shutting herself in her house, alone and away from people, Olga becomes static. She exhibits no semblance of growth. In fact, the opposite occurs. Her looks diminish. She loses weight. She is becoming less than what she was when she loved others, particularly her husbands. Just as it appears that this might be the end for Olga, someone returns.

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