Uncle Vanya Drugs and Alcohol
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Drugs and Alcohol
MARINA: Perhaps you'd like a little vodka?
ASTROV: No. I don't drink vodka every day. And it's so close today… (1.8-9)
Marina is a caring figure, so when she offers Astrov vodka it's like a grandma offering her grandchildren their favorite dessert. And his answer proves to be a lie, because he drinks in every act of the play. We're a little puzzled by the last line, "and it's so close today"… maybe he's so close to reaching his goal of going without vodka for a whole day?
ASTROV: [...] [To the workman] Be a good chap and bring me a glass of vodka. (1.262-63)
And there he goes. Astrov has just been asked to come assist someone medically, and his first order of business is to order up a glass of vodka. Maybe it's to warm him up, but it's summertime. Maybe he'll use it to sterilize his hands, but we've got a feeling it's more of a numbing agent, if you catch our drift.
SEREBRYAKOV: It's stuffy… Sonya, give me the drops on the table!
SONYA: Here. [Gives him the drops.]
SEREBRYAKOV: [crossly] No, not these! One can't ask for anything! (2.82-85)
Serebryakov's grouchiness isn't usually directed at his daughter but here, in the night, his pain is getting the best of him. The medicine that should help him isn't coming as quick as he likes, and it's probably his discomfort that makes him snap at her. Either way, he is acting like someone who is dependent on the drugs.
YELENA ANDREYEVNA: So you've been drinking again today? Why?
VOYNITSKY: At least it offers one something like life… Don't stop me, Hélène!
YELENA ANDREYEVNA: You never used to drink, and you never used to talk so much… Go to bed! I'm bored with you. (2.171-76)
Through this exchange, we can see that the relationship between Yelena and Vanya used to be good. She says "you never used to…" as though he really used to be a different person. And now he is someone who needs to drink because he feels as though he doesn't have a life. That means a pretty big change has occurred.
ASTROV: [....] [Inspects the bottles on the table.] Medicines. What a lot of prescriptions! From Kharkov and Moscow and Tula… He's plagued every city with his gout. Is he mill or malingering? (2.219-22)
Kharkov, Moscow, and Tula were all important cities in Russian territory (Kharkov is in Ukraine). Serebryakov is getting his medicine from all the regional capitals, which could mean that his sickness is hard to cure and he's had to go to lots of doctors, or that he likes his drugs and spreads out of his doctor visits to get more prescriptions.
ASTROV: [...] You see, I'm drunk too. I usually get this drunk once a month. When I'm in this condition, I become extremely aggressive and ambitious. I can do anything then! I take on the most difficult operations and do them perfectly; I draw up the grandest plans for the future; I don't then think myself an eccentric, and I can believe I am bringing colossal benefits to mankind—colossal! (2.235-41)
He's the King of the World. Astrov feels like he can do anything when he drinks vodka till he's drunk, which he does about once a month. We can extrapolate that the rest of the time he must not feel that way, otherwise he wouldn't get drunk. So we can further conclude that Astrov feels powerless, and that's why he drinks.
SONYA: Drink yourself, if it doesn't revolt you, but I beg you, don't let my uncle drink. It's bad for him.
ASTROV: All right. We won't drink any more. (2.275-77)
Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes is getting in everybody's business again. Sonya seems to feel responsible for everyone around her, from her father to her uncle, and this request to stop her uncle is really falling on deaf ears, because Astrov himself is a big drinker. Maybe, just maybe, it's an excuse to talk to him, and she doesn't really care that much about Uncle Vanya, though that's a big maybe.
ASTROV: You took a jar of morphine from my travelling medicine chest.
Look, if you are absolutely set on committing suicide, then go into the woods and shoot yourself. But give back the morphine or there'll be talk and conjecture and people will think that I gave it to you… (4.124-30)
Morphine is a powerful painkiller that can be addictive. If you use too much of it, which is easy to do because its effects are quite nice, it can kill. So Astrov concludes that the only thing Vanya must want with the drug is to commit suicide. And he's pretty much right. We've already seen that drugs and alcohol make it easier for the characters who take them to ignore their problems and do nothing. But here we can see that drugs and alcohol are also linked with death, so Chekhov is saying that ignoring your problems and drinking the pain away is like death because it's basically giving up your life.
SONYA: Give it back. Why do you frighten us? [Tenderly] Give it back, Uncle Vanya! I may be no less unhappy than you, but I don't become desperate. I endure and will endure until my life comes to a natural end… You must endure. (4.141-44)
Sonya is talking about the morphine that her uncle stole when she tells him to give "it" back. Like Astrov, she concludes that he will be using it to end his life, not for recreational purposes. And her plea that he continue and "endure" is really the target of the great criticism that Chekhov is offering through the play. Their lives are meaningless, painful, and useless, but they just continue to live them.
MARINA: So you're going without having tea?
ASTROV: I don't want any, Nyanya.
MARINA: Perhaps you'd like some vodka?
ASTROV: [indecisively] Maybe… (4.303-06)
The play ends like it began, with Marina offering Astrov some delicious vodka and Astrov acting like he has the power to say no. Of course that "maybe" goes along with Marina's "perhaps," but they both know that the answer is a solid yes, no two ways about it.
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