Analysis of The Bear by Anton Chekhov

The Bear is one of Chekhov’s lesser-known plays performed in 1888. The three main characters in this play create humour with their absurd behavior and dialogues. Their emotions are exaggerated and change unexpectedly. The play is also suggestive of the emancipation of women.

The Plot

Elena Ivanovna Popova is a landowning widow mourning for the death of her husband who had died seven months ago. Her aged footman, Luka, coaxes her to stop being buried inside the four walls and to enjoy life. She refuses firmly as she intends to prove her true love and faithfulness to her husband, in spite of him being unfaithful to her. He reminds her that she is still beautiful. The bell announces the entry of Smirnov, a person who comes to collect the money due to him by her husband. Popova refuses to see him but without courtesy he enters the dining room. As she does not have spare cash she promises to pay the day-after tomorrow. She also says her ‘state of mind’ prevents giving money matters her concern. Smirnov refuses to leave. In the argument that follows Popova calls Smirnov a bear for his boorish manners. Smirnov challenges her to defend her feminine rights- in the form of a duel. She accepts. Surprised by her boldness he begins to fall in love with her which he is forced to admit. Even then she is not willing to back down from the challenge. The argument that follows ends up in Smirnov kissing Popova passionately. The play ends with Luka and some workers armed with household weapons entering, intending to break up the duel.

Development of the Plot

  • The conversation between Popova and Luka reveals that he is trying to convince her that she should enjoy life while her beauty lasts. He further highlights the futility of mourning for her dead husband for such a long time.
  • Despite her late husband’s unfaithfulness to her she, vows to prove her love by mourning for him till her death.
  • She is irritated by Luka announcing the arrival of Smirnov to whom her dead husband owes 1200 rubles. He asks for cash to pay the interest on a mortgage. Popova’s peace is disturbed.
  • She is willing to pay Smirnov only after her steward comes back the day after tomorrow. But Smirnov reiterates that he needs the money desperately.
  • The argument builds up to a climax as Smirnov highlights the infidelity of women and Popova reveals the same about men.
  • Popova insults Smirnov calling him a bear. Smirnov is asked to go out. He refuses. Popova calls Luka to show Smirnov out.
  • The insulting continues.
  • Smirnov suggests Popova should pay for insulting him by engaging in a duel with him.
  • Popova brings her late husband’s pistols but asks Smirnov to teach her how to fire.
  • In teaching her, he is captivated by the beauty of her eyes and is touched by her boldness.
  • The climax heightens as Popova suggests going out for the duel. Smirnov is not interested in the duel anymore as he cannot resist falling in love with her.
  • The anticlimax is when the servants see them kissing each other passionately 


  • There are 3 main characters in the play.
  • Their physical features are presented at a minimum. eg. Popova is a little widow with dimples
  • on her cheeks. Smirnov is attracted by the beauty of her eyes.
  • Smirnov is middle-aged and Luka is an aged footman.
  • Chekov makes use of absurd behavior and dialogues to bring out character


Despite the exaggerated behaviour the play demands, Popova’s character reveals certain traits.

i. She is very emotional
The play opens with Popova fixing her eyes on a photograph of her late husband. She weeps and talks to him about her love.

ii. Has a strong determination
Even though it is impractical to mourn for the rest of her life, she vows to do it.

iii. Bold and courageous
When Smirnov challenges her to a duel, she accepts it and does not give up even after he expresses his love for her.


i. He is rude and ill-mannered. He enters the house without a show of courtesy and behaves rudely.

ii. Irritable
When Popova refuses to pay him, he gets angry and shouts at her without any sympathy for a woman in mourning.

iii. Chauvinistic
He highlights his male superiority over women.

iv. Manipulative
He has lent money to many men and they have all evaded him. His intention is to get what Popova owes him at any cost.


Loyal - He advises Popova to stop mourning as she should enjoy life. He tries to save her form smirnov’s insults.


i. Money
The effect of money on human behavior.

ii. Infidelity
Popova reveals about her late husband’a relationship with other women.

iii. Emanicipation of women
Popovas behavior suggests the extent of action a woman is capable of. Smirnov is taken aback by Popova’s boldness.

iv. Inconsistency of human behavior
Popova’s and Smirnov’s attitudes towards each other change rapidly.

v. Condition of the woman in Russian society


Pre-revolutionary Russia; The main characters belong to the land owning class.

Literary Techniques

i. Humour
Absurd behavior and dialogues create humour

ii. Metaphor
Popova says “You’re a boor! A coarse bear!

iii. Incongruity and contrast
Violence and love are juxtaposed at the end of the play.

iv. Suspense
The arguments between Popova and Smirnov bring about tense situation

Though the behavior of the character evokes humour, it shows the duality of people; there are no black or white characters in the world. All change with the course of time. In plays these characters are called round characters. If you have suggestions to be made, please comment below.  

Post a Comment


  1. It was very helpful. The summarization is of indeed a great writing. Thanks a lot

    1. Happy to be a service. Thanks for your kind comment.

  2. “I absolutely like her. Absolutely. Even though her cheeks are dimpled, I like her. I am almost ready to let the debt go”

    what are the literary device used in this extract sir?
    thank you, keep you good work up!!!!

    1. Satire, visual imagery, humour, irony is also there as now he is ready to let the debt go.

  3. How does anton chekhov juxtaposes violence and love in his drama sir
    Thank you, hope you have a good day

    1. I think through both main characters. Smirnov is violent and his love is too violent. Popova on the other hand seemingly soft, but her love outbursts in a violent way.

  4. I like to say that, this website helped me for my English Literature Activities. Especially for writing essay type questions. I obtained a lot of information about poems, proses and dramas that I had not learnt before. You have my thanks for providing these kind of analyses. I admire your effort taken in making this website.

    1. Thanks pasindu for leaving this kind commen . I am happy to be a service to you.

  5. “The bear is an absurd theatre‟ How far do you agree this statement to evaluate the play The Bear” , sir it would be really helpful if you give some points to answer this question

    1. Bear is apparently is not an absurd theater though its dialogues are a bit absurd. You may counter argue your question showing that it is not an absurd theater. You can check the features of absurd theater in this post and find whether they are present in the drama and adapt it to the answer:

  6. ''Both Smirnov and Popova in the play The Bear have similar characteristics" Sir can you give me some ideas for this above question.

    1. they both have similar status like widows, they both have similar temper, they both change at the end, both share duality in their characteristics, both are victims of the society...etc.

  7. Sir I think that the drama mainly deals with the theme of the nature of human feelings, how unbelievably and rapidly they get changed , can I say so?

  8. Dear Sampath,
    The attempt to share your knowledge is highly appreciated. Both the teachers and students are equally benefitted by this endeavor. In fact, it is good to see someone who whishes the wellbeing of others.

    Chamila Randeniya

    1. Actually, I am inspired by Mr. Rohana C. Fernando, who started sharing his valuable knowledge and resources for others. Writing posts equally helps me to enhance my knowledge too. Thanks for your appreciation which means a lot to me.

  9. Some really useful slides here. I've been looking for something like this to help with a
    research piece I've been working on.
    Pakistani Dramas

  10. Sir what about the title ? The Bear can u explain it

  11. Bear is not a pleasant animal, it is not physically attractive and usually a wild bear is aggressive and rude. You can relate these characteristics to the character of Smirnov.

  12. It's very useful for students. Thanks so much for this

  13. Excuse me sir , " The mice have eaten my livery"., what is the literary technique used here ?
    Thank u sir for ur great help

    1. Seemingly metaphorical, it might show Luka's present state, his uniform and rat can have symbolic referance. However, it seems to imply that he is getting old and he may be not able to stand beside Popova, his mistress.

  14. I do not know how to thank you sir. This was extremely helpful. In writing essay type questions, is it better to mention popova's characteristics rather positive? Or is it okay to mention negative aspects of her character as well? Keep up the good work, sir

  15. Thank you so much sir very helpful!

  16. Sir, can you provide some instances for Sarcasm

    1. Popova's explanasion on mens' fidelity, Smirnov's explanasions about women and his encounters with women.

  17. Great job Sir thank you.I have a question,how does popova admire her husband

    1. Through her actions: she herself completely devoted to her husband before and after his death. She admirs the look on her husband when he is riding Toby.

  18. Thank you for such a concise sketch of the play.

  19. Menuka ThilakarathneOctober 18, 2022 at 8:14 AM

    SIr can u please give me some advise on what I should include in the starting paragraph of an essay abt The Bear. Thank you so much for sharing these valuable knowledge with us. This really helped me in so many ways. 🙏✨

    1. starting paragraph should be decided by the question given. most students tend to give lots of unnecessary background information about the writer and the drama. these things should be produced if they are needed only. Directly address the issue in the question showing how you are going to address the issue in the question.