Anton Chekhov’s stories and plays commonly share certain themes. They often examine people that can be described as voiceless and/or exploited by others. The author’s tales also show the mirror image of these people. They examine the exploiters, taking a hard look at those who hold power and who unashamedly take advantage of and use others.
These themes are well illustrated in the short story Anyuta. The tale’s namesake is a young woman whose social position leads the upper classes to look down upon her. Stepan Klochkov is the young medical student with whom she is having an affair. Anyuta is under no illusions as to what their future holds in store. She observes,
“In all her six or seven years of wandering through various furnished rooms, she had known some five men like Klochkov. Now they had all finished their studies, had made their way in life, and, of course, being decent people, had long forgotten her.”
Stepan is a terrible human being. At one point, he uses Anyuta as a human prop and draws markings on her body as he uses her as a study aid for a medical examination. Chekhov uses this story to illustrate exactly what kind of a terrible person Stepan is. He is a kind that all too often exists among the respectable of society. Despite the fact that he has committed the same social taboos as Anyuta, and despite the fact that he is cruel and lacks empathy, he will be accepted by society and considered a reputable person. This is illustrated at the point that he decides to leave Anyuta.
“It was as if he foresaw the future with his mental eye, when he would receive patients in his office, have tea in a spacious dining room in company with his wife, a respectable woman— and now this basin of swill with cigarette butts floating in it looked unbelievably vile. Anyuta, too, seemed homely, slovenly, pitiful … And he decided to separate from her, at once, whatever the cost.”
I find the above lines show a terrible cruelty and arrogance inside of Stepan. The basin of cigarette butts and swill is more reflective of him than of Anyuta.
For her part, Anyuta is one of many of Chekhov’s long-suffering protagonists. She is resigned to her position. There is no rebellion. There is something terribly sad about her. However, I think that the author is trying to show something dignified also. Anyuta is stoic, she hurts no one, she is not self-righteous and she demands nothing for herself.
Chekhov has a knack for shinning light into this ugly side of human nature. He also has a knack for portraying those who are unfortunately on the receiving end of it. Like most of the author’s tales, this one does not have happy ending. With that, I think that, in giving voice to the voiceless, perhaps Chekhov is illuminating their humanity.