Smirnov’s Character in the Play 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. Smirnov is the antagonist of the play, a character of complex personality who is a reflection of male dominant pre-revolutionary Russia. Though he comes to the stage as a dark character, he changes at the end of the play suggesting the nature of human, who can change according to situations.  

You may watch complete analysis on The Bear by Anton Chekhov below.


 

Rude and ill- mannered

The title of the play is about Smirnov whose behavior is rude and ill-mannered like a bear. He enters the house without a show of courtesy and behaves rudely. His treatments to the footman, Luka and his indecent speech towards Popova generates a black image about his character at the beginning of the play. Luka introduces him as a ‘devil.’ The way he treats Luka in return unveils a rude master:

Luka: “I told so, but the… the devil… curses and pushes himself right in…”

To Luka: ‘Shut up! Who are you talking to? I’ll chop you into pieces!’

Popova promptly criticizes the boorish and ill-bred behavior of Smirnov. Though she lived in a male-dominant society, she belongs to the land owning class where there had been social etiquette to treat women with respect.

Popova: ‘Please don’t shout! This isn’t a stable!’

‘You don’t know how to behave before women!’

‘…You’re a rude, ill-bred man! Decent people don’t talk to a woman like that!’

 

 

Irritable

When Popova refuses to pay him, he gets angry and shouts at her without any sympathy for a woman in mourning. He tries to manipulate Popova with his words and the words he used can irritate any person in the shoes of her. He uses force words and words to humiliate the character of Popova and the women in general. He does not understand the situation of Popova and her vow to pay the money in the day after tomorrow. The reader too may feel critical of the illogical nature of Smirnov’s request to pay the money on the same day. This irritable nature of Smirnov is evident up to the climax of the play:

‘What a way to reason, A man is in desperate need of his money, and she won’t pay it because, you see, she is not disposed to attend to money matters!... That’s real silly feminine logic.’

‘You may have buried yourself alive, but you haven’t forgotten to powder your face!’

 

Chauvinistic

Smirnov is a representative character for male dominance in pre-revolutionary Russia. Under the Tsar government, the male held the upper hand in the society. The women considered inferior to men, thus was not given opportunity for education nor occupations. Smirnov’s chauvinistic response to Popova is a reflection of patriarchal conventions in that period of time.   

In his speech, He highlights his male superiority over women. He claims female views as ‘silly feminine logic’ to ridicule the level of education of them. His views the women as ‘poetic creatures’ which revels the attitude of the society towards women that they are not deep in their intellect and rather sentimental and aesthetically inclined:

He criticizes and insults women and womanhood in his speech to project his male superiority over Popova:

‘…You have the misfortune to be a woman, you know from yourself what is the nature of woman…’

‘…I’m not a woman, and I’m used to saying what I think straight out! Don’t you shout, either!’

 

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. His dire necessity and his chauvinistic behavior make him to force Popova to get his money back. He utilizes his boorish behavior and insulting words to achieve what he needs:  

‘If you don’t pay me to-day, I’ll hang myself to-morrow.’

‘In that case I stay here and shall wait until I get it.’

His manipulative behavior towards Popova might be mainly because his prejudices about women and debtors. Before trying Popova, Smirnov has tried all his debtors before to find money to repay his creditors. Most of them evaded him and provided him with some false reasons to avoid him. This makes him to be stern and manipulative against his final resort, the ‘softer sex.’ He disbelieves Popova as he does not believe women to be constant and trustworthy. 

 

Gentle

Smirnov seems to have a soft corner in his heart. Due to the dire need for money he has to hide his softer side in order to force the debtors to pay him. Though, at the beginning of the play he behaves in such a dominant way, his power of speech and behavior changes into passive revealing his true character. It seems that he had been a bitter character mainly because of the bitter encounters and experiences he had in the past.

During the process of the play the reader can find his real nature through his speech:

‘It’s rather impolite to come into a drawing-room in this state, but it can’t be helped…I am not here as a visitor, but as a creditor…’

‘Not a swine wants to pay me! Just because I’m too gentle with them…’

‘I haven’t been in love for five years, I’d taken a vow, and now all of a sudden I’m in love…’

Overall, the character of Smirnov is not totally a black one. During the process of the play the reader can understand his desperate situation with money and the very issue of money makes him to be a dark character. His character dynamically changes on the face of Popova’s powerful personality and her beauty of eyes. Through his character it is further revealed of the transitory nature of human emotions and the ill-effect of money that makes a good man a ‘bear.’

You may read - Theme: Emancipation of Women in The Bear by Anton Chekhov here.

What are your views about the character of Smirnov? Kindly leave a comment below in the comment section. Share the post if you find it useful to others.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this. This is helpful for me.

    Can you please write an essay for this?

    Why is Luka important to the play, and how do his responses highlight the emotions developing between Smirnov and Mrs Popova and the play's comic elements in Chekov's "The Bear?

    ReplyDelete