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 



Characterization

  • 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


Popova

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.


Smirnov


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.


Luka

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


Themes


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


Setting

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.  

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