The Kiss by Anton Chekhov is a brilliant short story. It contains all the requisite features of a good short story. Elements of excitement, drama, romantic infatuation and suspense make the story hold its ground. In terms of literary devices, the apt yet optimal use of imagery and symbolism accentuates the overall effect on the reader. The story is also outstanding for its accommodation of dual characteristics of the concrete and the abstract. In other words, while the romantic preoccupation of Ryabovitch has a certain immediacy and specificity, by the end of the story, it becomes clear that the author is dealing with human universals. The character of Ryabovitch pitted against the unexpected circumstances he finds himself in acts as a representation for broader human life. The rest of the essay will outline the summary, and analyze the themes and literary aspects of the story.
When the officers of a reserve artillery brigade pass through the countryside as part of their military excursion, they are invited for tea by local landlord and retired General von Rabbek. The invitation was largely a matter of courtesy and formality, as the General could have very little genuine interest in entertaining a group of officers unknown and unconnected to him. The event begins on an awkward note, but is soon smoothened by banter, good food and music. When music is played, the young officers choose attractive young women from the gathering to dance in duet. What should be a pleasurable evening out for most is quite the opposite for one young officer called Ryabovitch, who is the central character of the story. Ryabovitch is a shy, lean and modest staff-captain, who regards himself as unattractive. He thinks of himself as “short, stooping… with spectacles and lynx-like side whiskers”. He could be true about this assessment of himself, or it could have born of his low self-esteem. Either way, he finds social occasions discomforting, especially if it involves attractive young women. He tries to minimize his discomfort by joining a group of officers in the billiards room, but soon gets bored. On his way back to the central hall, he gets lost in the labyrinthine design of the house and ends up visiting a darkly lit room. As he ponders where to go next, a young woman visits him in the room and from behind him, plants a kiss upon his cheek. Momentarily, she realizes that she’s kissed the wrong man – something indicated by her surprised shriek and immediate rushing out of the room. Though taken aback by this unexpected yet very pleasant sensation of the young lady’s caress and kiss, the young Ryabovitch enjoyed immensely the waft of delightful perfume and the rustle of her delicate dress. This accidental presentation of a powerful feminine charm would have a profound effect on him in subsequent days.
The days after the accidental kiss were one of fanciful infatuation, mixed with imaginative flights of romance, marriage and a happy conjugal life thereafter. All other activities relating to his military duties appear in a blur, as his mind was fixated on the kiss, though he knew well that there is nothing more to it than an accident. In these days of imaginative fancy, Ryabovitch “goes on feeling the tingle of the kiss “like peppermint drops” around his mouth; every night he visualizes the girl who kissed him, and retains his joy at fate’s accidental caress.” (Evans, 2008, p. 26) Even when the brigade is on the move he daydreams about the kiss and the beauty of the girl. A moving brigade is a complicated affair, with all members of it playing their respective roles and coordinating with one another’s movements. But even this deliberate and complex piece of military routine appears to Ryabovitch as quite boring – an indication of the deep impact made by his evening at the General’s.