Story within a Story
Aliokhin’s house is two-storied, and so is “Gooseberries.” Chekhov introduces the outer story as Ivan and Bourkin seek shelter from the rain in Aliokhin’s house. Ivan tells a story about his brother, which becomes the inner story. At the end, Chekhov returns to the outer story as Ivan finishes his story and addresses his audience, and the men retire for the night. The outer story frames the inner story, yet the two are related by the character of Ivan and the themes presented. While some authors utilize a framing technique merely to add interest to the inner story, Chekhov relates both in a meaningful and interesting way. The themes of obsession and contentment presented in the inner story come to reflect on the characters of the outer story.
Chekhov is known for his innovative storytelling techniques, and the use of a story within a story is a good example. ”Gooseberries” is the second in a trilogy of short stories, all of which use this same framing device. This framing technique has been used effectively in other genres by other writers, such as William Shakespeare in the play Hamlet and Margaret Landon in the novel Anna and the King of Siam.
Chekhov sets the tone for “Gooseberries” in the first sentence and carries the mood throughout the story. The first sentence reads,
“From early morning the sky had been overcast with clouds; the day was still, cool, and wearisome, as usual on gray, dull days when the clouds hung low over the fields and it looks like rain, which never comes.”
As Ivan and Bourkin approach Aliokhin’s farm, the weather is described as “unpleasant” and the river is imagined to be ”cold and sullen.” Although the travelers temporarily muse on how beautiful the land is, the overall feeling is melancholy, and the men’s spirits are not lifted. The tone is bleak and dismal, a mood reflected not only in the landscape but also in the animals. When the rain starts, the dogs stand “mournfully” with their tails tucked. The wet horses also hang their heads.
Aliokhin invites Ivan and Bourkin to refresh themselves with baths and food, which they do, yet Ivan’s dark, cynical disposition soon returns. His invigorating swim only enlivens him for a few moments, and soon he is relating the story of his brother, a story that ends with a clear look at Ivan’s deep cynicism and sense of unrest. The story ends with Ivan saying, ‘”God forgive me, a wicked sinner,”‘ and Chekhov concludes with the sentence, “The rain beat against the windows all night long.” Some writers use rain as a symbol of nature’s cycles and a source of cleansing, but in “Gooseberries” there is never an indication that this is Chekhov’s intention. Rather, the continuous rain seems to demonstrate that for the length of the story the weather has been consistently dreary.
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.