The Discontentment Of Intelligence In Checkov
’s Three Sisters Essay, Research Paper
When a person is smarter than the people that he or she is brought into company, conversation can become boring. There isn t much to talk about because no one has anything in common. This can lead to discontentment in one s life, for everything can seem mediocre. This is true for Masha from the play Three Sisters, by playwright Anton Checkov. Masha and her two sisters, Irena and Olga, were brought up by their father to be well read and intelligent. They were taught to read the classics and speak several languages, as well as memorize many things that later in life they find useless.
Masha is a very typical Checkovian character. She despises the way her life is going and she does nothing about it. When the play opens, the three sisters are sitting in a room waiting for everyone to arrive for Irena s Saints Day party. Masha is despondently singing under her breath, A green oak grows by a curving shore, And round that oak hangs a golden chain (254) She seems very depressed and she gets up to go home. Everyone is shocked that she is leaving her sister s party, even though she will return for dinner that evening. Her response to them: What does it matter? In the old days when Father was alive we used to have thirty or forty officers at our parties. What gay parties we had! And today– what have we got today? A man and a half, and the place is quiet as a tomb. I m going home. I m depressed today, I m sad, so don t listen to me. (255) Masha would be described as a brooding person, waiting for something to happen to save her from herself.
At dinner that night the lines that she verbalized earlier in the day begin to distress her again, A green oak grows by a curving shore and round that oak hangs a golden chain. a gren chain around that oak. Why do I keep saying that? Those lines have been worrying me all day long! (270) What Masha doesn t realize is that she is not in the presence of men who are as smart as she is. Her husband, whom she married with she was just eighteen, is a schoolmaster, and then her husband seemed the cleverest man in the whole world to her. It s different now. He s the kindest of men, but not the cleverest. (267) She thought that her husband would be the intellectual stimulant that she so desperately needs, but it turned out that he is just like everyone else. Masha has determined that she has no use for her education. She has an incredible array of knowledge inside of her, and she can t understand how people can, live and not know why the cranes fly, why children are born, why the stars shine in the sky! You must either know why you live, or else nothing matters everything s just wild grass. (282) In the same breath she quotes Gogol, It s a bore to be alive in this world, friends, (282) meaning that while it is wonderful and necessary to have knowledge, it is what you do with it that counts.
One main theme that she keeps repeating is that she is bored, or possibly going mad. She is not going mad; she is not content in her position in life for she feels that she is too bright for her own good. At one point in the play Koolyghin, her husband, declares how much he loves her and she crossly responds, Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant! (304) which is the Latin conjugated form of the verb amar, to love. It is almost as if she is saying that love is such a common word that it has lost all of its meaning. It is all so ordinary to her; it doesn t really matter. It is the monotony of her life that makes her, so bored, bored, bored. and I can t keep it out of my head. (304)
Masha s life begins to change, and there is hope, but in the end, her emotions turn from that of boredom to that of resigned despair; she cannot be with the man that she really loves, Vershinin, for they are both married to other people. She does not want to do anything about this love, just as she does not want to do anything about her life, If I love him, well- that s my fate! That s my destiny. How are we going to live the rest of our lives? What is going to become of us? When you read a novel, everything in it seems old and obvious, but when you fall in love yourself you suddenly discover that you don t really know anything, and you ve got to make your own decisions. and now I ll keep quiet. I ll be like that madman in that story by Gogol- silence silence. (307-8) It is this resignation to her situation that leads to her eventual unbalance. Although Masha knows that there is something going on inside of her, she is not ready to do anything about it: When you have to take your happiness in snatches, in little bits, as I do, and then you lose it, as I ve lost it, you eventually get hardened and bad tempered. [Points to her breast] Something s boiling over inside me, here. (316)
Masha s longing for Vershinin has no resolution, and she feels like because of it she is going mad. However, she does not do anything to change the path she is traveling. Vershinin is an officer in the army and has received orders to leave the country. When he comes to say goodbye, Masha becomes emotionally out of control, screaming and sobbing, not wanting Vershinin to leaven her. Masha, still trying to subdue her sobs, says, A green oak grows by a curving shore, and around that oak hangs a golden chain. A golden chain around that oak. Oh I m going mad. By a curving shore a green oak. (326) She is so overcome with emotion that she is about to collapse and her intelligence sneaks up and takes control of her again. She does not realize that she is reciting this poem over and over again. It is something that has been in her thoughts, and when this traumatic experience emerges, she immediately reverts back to what is familiar. Her sisters try to calm her down, yet she stubbornly trudges on in her babble: A green oak grows by a curving shore, And round that oak hangs a golden chain. A green cat a green oak I ve got it all mixed up. My life s messed up. I don t want anything now. I ll calm down in a moment. It doesn t matter. What is the curving shore ? Why does it keep coming into my head all the time? My thoughts are all mixed up. (326-7)
A green oak grows by a curving shore, and round that oak hangs a golden chain The green oak could be symbolic of Koolyghin, for it is a strong stable object. The curving shore could be representative of Vershinin because the river is right there, close enough to touch, but not to have. The golden chain could be illustrative of two things: a gold wedding band, and being chained to something. Masha is chained to Koolyghin by marriage vows. Subconsciously she knows all of this and that is the reason she keeps returning back to this poem when everything goes wrong. Masha is too intelligent for her own good. She cannot be content in her current situation with Koolyghin, for she loves Vershinin. Nevertheless, she cannot be with Vershinin because she is married to Koolyghin. She had resigned herself to these truths and she knows that, We must go on living we must go on living. (329)