Aliokhin is a successful farmer who runs a mill. He owns a large, plain house where he employs at least one servant. Aliokhin is described as tall, stout, long-haired, and around forty years old. When his friends Ivan and Bourkin arrive unannounced, he welcomes them gladly and stops working for the day to properly host his guests.
Bourkin is a friend of Ivan’s who accompanies him when they visit Aliokhin. Bourkin is a teacher who enjoys listening to Ivan tell stories, and he keeps Ivan from straying too far from the storyline. Bourkin is an even-tempered and mild-mannered man.
Ivan Ivanich is the central character in “Gooseberries.” He is a veterinary surgeon who tells his friends Bourkin and Aliokhin a story about his younger brother, Nicholai.
Ivan is a cynical man who sees his brother as delusional, arrogant, and misguided. Ivan is unable to judge his brother’s decisions based on his brother’s happiness because he is too narrow-minded to understand a different way of life. Ivan’s inability to understand Nicholai leads Ivan to give Nicholai money in an effort to try to change his lifestyle; he seems to want to control what does not make sense to him. At the same time, he has an upright sense of justice and is saddened by the way Nicholai treats the elderly widow he marries for her money.
Because of his experience with his brother, Ivan has become even more disenchanted with the world than he was previously. He is impatient for change that will bring advantages to the underprivileged and impoverished. He is upset that he has realized this too late, because he now feels that he is too old to join a worthwhile fight for good in the world.
The subject of Ivan’s story, Nicholai is Ivan’s brother, two years his junior. Although he does not personally appear in “Gooseberries,” his story is the focus of the work.
As told in Ivan’s story, Nicholai was employed with the government treasury but all the while dreamed of returning to the countryside where he spent his childhood. For years, he saved money and planned to buy a small farm with a creek and a gooseberry bush. According to Ivan, Nicholai’s preoccupation with his dream became a “disorder.” His determination to realize his dream made him miserly, and he married an elderly widow simply because she had money. He prioritized his dream over her well-being and kept all of her money, allowing her no luxuries and little food. Once he was able to buy a farm, he purchased twenty gooseberry bushes to plant on his land so that his reality would live up to his dream.
According to Ivan, Nicholai became fat and lazy after settling in to country life. He also became arrogant, demanding that the local peasants call him “Your Lordship.” Ivan also says that Nicholai was delusional because he thought the hard, sour gooseberries were delicious.
Pelagueya is Aliokhin’s chambermaid. She is a dainty, reserved, and strikingly pretty young woman who performs her duties with grace and courtesy.
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.