Decline of Russia’s Feudal Order
The end of the nineteenth century saw the end of the old feudal order in Russia. Political bodies and organizations were becoming obsolete in the face of new developments, and the economy (traditionally divided neatly along agrarian and aristocratic lines) was giving rise to capitalists and a new urban middle class. Unfortunately, the lower class suffered increased poverty, and although the middle class was growing, it was experiencing apathy and frustration. In fact, uncertainty characterized Russian society as a whole. Russian authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev were writing about weakened social institutions and structures in the 1860s and 1870s, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky was writing about the intellectual consequences of these changes. In the midst of the turmoil and upheaval, Chekhov emerged as a writer who depicted life without traditional heroes and villains.
Realism in Literature
Chekhov is considered the last of the great writers of Russia’s Golden Age of literature. During this period, many Russian writers, including Chekhov, wrote realistic works. Realism in literature, which became especially prominent around the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, refers to an author’s accurate rendering of the way people, things, and events exist and act in life. Such writing is often concerned with realistic consequences of decisions made by characters. Chekhov, like most realistic writers of the time, was interested in democracy and frequently depicted life among common people.
”Gooseberries” is a good example of the realistic tendency away from neatly plotted stories with distinct beginnings, middles, and endings. Realists observe that life does not happen this way, and as a result their works are often asymmetrical or unevenly structured. Realists do not cater to readers’ needs for satisfying conclusions with all loose ends resolved. Instead, they prefer to represent an episode (or episodes) as it might unfold in real life, leaving questions unanswered and a degree of uncertainty about where the characters will go after the story ends.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Anton Chekhov, Published by Gale Cengage Learning.