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Chekhov: unbearable lightness of life

In the autumn of 1896, “The Seagull” premiered at the Royal Theatre in St. Petersburg. This play, which was later regarded as one of Chekhov’s masterpieces, was ridiculed and ridiculed by the audience. Anton Chekhov hastily hid behind the stage and sighed with regret. This “disaster” made his mood difficult to calm. At the end of the premiere, he lingered on the St. Petersburg street until two o’clock in the morning before returning home. As soon as he got home, Chekhov set up a flag, “Unless I can live over 700 years old, I will not write a script”.

Chekhov naturally did not live to be 701 years old. In 1904, the great writer passed away because of lung disease. Flag, which spanned a hundred years, could not break the spell of inevitable fall. Chekhov’s focus in his later years was almost on drama. After “Seagull”, he wrote masterpieces such as “Cherry Garden” and “Three Sisters”.

The Russian literary historian D.S. Millsky once commented on Chekhov in the History of Russian Literature: “Chekhov’s language has no color and lacks personality. He has no sense of words. No Russian writer in his position can use such dull and rigid language. Therefore, his works are easy to translate; among all Russian writers, he is the most afraid of distortion and betrayal by translators.” This kind of evaluation is slightly harsh, but I think to some extent it coincides with Chekhov’s own idea of drama creation.

Chekhov’s plays focus on the description of daily life and are committed to the reproduction of real scenes. He sees a kind of irreconcilable contradiction and complexity in daily life, As he said, “Everything on the stage has to be as complex as life, and at the same time as simple. People eat, only eat, but at this time their happiness is formed, or their life is destroyed.” He does not pursue strange plots and exciting conflicts. He tries to write ordinary people in ordinary situations, and tries to convince the audience that everything on the stage is the truth of life, But daily life, its original appearance is just like what he painted: it seems to be unchanged, like fantasy, like truth, the undercurrent surging, absurd.

The life-oriented writing is first manifested in the choice of Chekhov’s theme. The characters in his works live a normal life. All events and dialogues are reflected in daily life such as eating, sleeping and entertainment every day. The main story of “Cherry Orchard” is that Liu Baofu and her daughter Ania, brother Gayev, tutor and servants returned to the Cherry Orchard together. Because it was difficult to pay the mortgage, they had to auction the property. They could not raise money. Finally, the Cherry Orchard fell into the hands of the servant’s son, the emerging bourgeoisie Rob Hing, The old Cherry Garden will soon be built with villas, but the play did not focus on the auction scene, nor did it arrange a fierce conflict about the fate of the Cherry Garden. At the time of the Cherry Garden auction, a dance was being held. The news that the Cherry Garden was bought by Robertson was only announced by Robertson at the end of the dance. The core theme event was diluted by Chekhov as an episode in the life scene. Secondly, Chekhov always tries to construct similarity scenes in his plays. This similarity scene generally appears as the cause and effect of the main conflict. In Uncle Vanya, the quiet rural life is broken by the appearance of Professor Serebriyakov and his second wife, Yelena. Asterlov and Lievonitsky fall in love with Yelena, the married husband, and Sophia, the daughter of the former wife of the professor, confesses her heart to the doctor Asterlov, The development of a series of disorderly events ended with the departure of the professor and his wife. In the Cherry Garden, the scene of the return and departure of the deceased is more obvious. In my opinion, this similarity is not only to pursue the integrity of the overall structure of the drama, but also to reveal the highly repetitive nature of life and deepen the audience’s recognition of its representation. The ultimate goal is to make the audience nod and say the words he has long expected: yes, this is life.

Althusser put forward the theory of “symptomatic reading” in “Reading<Capital”, aiming to seize the gaps and fractures in the text and find the hidden hidden discourse under the text. In fact, Chekhov’s drama writing is also a kind of “symptomatic” writing. While pursuing the writing of real life, Chekhov paid attention to the gaps and pauses in daily life, as well as the barriers between people and the environment itself. This understanding of the symptoms of life has broken the ideological concept of “life”. Chekhov has cast doubt on people’s intuitive concept of life, and life has become strange. Such a problem is the beginning of Camus’s perception of the world’s original hostility.

The communication between the characters in Chekhov’s plays seems not as smooth as that in classical dramas. Sometimes the characters will have long monologues, and occasionally they will insert a remark that has nothing to do with the content of the conversation. Even the characters in the play sometimes seem to be talking, but it is more like a kind of mutter when they are alone. In “Three Sisters”, the lyrical comments of Wilchning and Tucsenbach are almost all monologues, which are difficult to have a direct connection with the words of the three sisters. Gayev’s language in “Cherry Orchard” is also unique. He always talks about the actions on the billiards table, such as “hitting the ball around the edge into the middle net pocket, hitting the ball with the positive pole” and “hitting the yellow ball into the middle net pocket”, These words have nothing to do with what people are talking about, and it is difficult to find the object of Gayev’s dialogue.

The situation of the protagonists in Chekhov’s works is very similar to that of modern people. They are lonely and confused, and there is always an invisible barrier between them. They can’t explain why they fall into such a situation, nor can they understand the hearts of others. This type of character makes the drama focus on describing the real life, which is always shrouded in a layer of people’s own doubts about existential thinking. Here, I have no intention of comparing Chekhov’s dramas with existentialism in various ways. In Chekhov’s works, we see the undercurrent of life we are accustomed to. Everyday life is no longer what we are familiar with. As an individual, the meaning of the subject begins to move and become lighter. This is similar to the living experience of modern people, and the closeness of modern people to Chekhov is also the manifestation of Chekhov’s value as a master of world literature.


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