Though his romantic urges are heightened by the event of the kiss, he slowly comes to realize the reality of his situation. That the girl intended to kiss another man and mistook for him in the dark was always known to Ryabovitch, but now he begins to consciously remind himself of this fact. But, when, after a three month interval, his brigade happens to cross the same village again, his pent up anticipation of meeting the girl who kissed him and pouring out his thoughts to her. But his desperate expectation of an invitation from General von Rabbek similar to the previous visit does not arrive on time. In the mean time, he admonishes himself for his own futile desperation and the purposelessness of his enterprise. When he is eventually informed of the General’s invitation to tea, he sticks by the decision not to pursue the girl. In other words, he has honestly measured his own foolish romantic tendencies and evaluated the vacuity of meaning in his pursuit of the mistaken girl. Standing by his convictions and by his own assessment of the situation, he declines the invitation from the General. This approach is not only pragmatic but also righteous, balanced and courageous. Though the ending to the story may come across as anti-climatic, it actually shows Ryabovitch’s conquering of himself, as opposed to the vanity of conquering the heart of an unknown girl.
It is important to understand the personal philosophy of the author to appreciate the work he has created. A 1888 letter Chekhov wrote to a friend reveals this philosophy as well as sets the conceptual framework for studying the short story The Kiss. The letter was written in an emotional tone and expresses Chekhov’s personal credo that he was otherwise not ready to speak about:
“I am neither liberal, nor conservative, nor gradualist, nor monk, nor indifferentist…. Pharisaism, dull wittedness and tyranny reign not only in merchants’ homes and police stations. I see them in science, in literature, among the younger generation…. I look upon tags and labels as prejudices. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom imaginable, freedom from violence and lies, no matter what form the latter two take.” (McConkey, 2005)
In studying The Kiss, the last sentence from the above passage provides the most relevant context. The story stands for ‘freedom from lies’ as much as it stands for other profound universal truths. In the case of Ryabovitch, the more accurate description is ‘freedom from self-deception’, which he at long last manages to achieve.
Another salient feature of The Kiss is its rootedness to the ethnic while also appealing to the universal. For example, The Kiss was written during the early twentieth century. To this extent, some of the sentiments and situations explained by it are specific to the time. Let us take the importance attached by the author to the chance ‘kiss’. In contemporary culture, a kiss on the cheek is not a major life event – it happens as a matter of course in everyday life. But the social customs and norms of early twentieth century Russia is quite distant to current standards. Hence, a kiss by an un-married woman, chance or deliberate, carried a lot of significance. During that era, the society placed a lot of importance to the institution of marriage. Marriage was seen as not only a stable economic and social arrangement, but it also carried prestige and respectability.