Study Guide

Uncle Vanya Man and the Natural World

By Anton Chekhov

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Man and the Natural World

TELEGIN: Marina Timofeyevna, whether I'm driving in the fields or walking in the shade of the garden or looking at this table, I feel inexpressible happiness! The weather is delightful, the little birds are singing, we all live in peace and concord – what more could we want? (1.985-102)

Hardy har har. Don't make us laugh, Waffle. Obviously, this line that comes so early in the play is ironic. It's like the little birdies singing just before the hunters come and kill Bambi's mom (oh, spoiler alert). But Telegin's idea that everything is well has to do with his connection to nature; a connection that the unhappy people in the play just don't have.

ASTROV: [...] [To Yelena Andreyevna] I'll be really pleased if you and Sofya Aleksandrovna come and see me some time. I've a little place, just thirty desyatinas, but if you're interested, I have a first-rate garden and you won't find a nursery like mine within a thousand versts. Next door is the state forest… The forester there is old and always ill, so in practice I run it all. (1.267-72)

First of all, an FYI. A desyatina is a unit of area measure, so Astrov has something like 81 acres of land. And versts are a unit of length pretty close to a kilometer. Anyway, he's using his own connection to nature to try to woo Yelena. It's not just his ownership of the land, but also his management and knowledge of it that he sees as strong points.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: [to Astrov] You're still a young man, you look—well, thirty-six, thirty-seven—and it can't be as interesting as you say. Just trees and trees. Monotonous, I would think. (1.285-87)

And here comes the screeching halt to all that nice talk about nature we were getting from Telegin and Astrov. Yelena tells it like it is, which is boring, in her eyes anyway. So her connection to nature, as a city woman, is basically nil. This is one way we learn that Yelena is the sort of listless, lazy woman who is easily bored.

SONYA: No, it's extraordinarily interesting. Every year Mikhail Lvovich plants new woods and he's already been given a bronze medal and a diploma. He campaigns against the destruction of old forests. If you listen to him you'll find yourself in complete agreement with him. He says that forests embellish the earth, they teach man to understand beauty, they inspire ideals in him. (1.288-93)

Well, it's hearsay, but Astrov is standing right there as Sonya puts words in his mouth and he doesn't protest. So we can assume that this characterization is what Astrov thinks, and he's really putting a lot of pressure on nature, to make human beings better people. We hope Mother Nature's up to it.

VOYNITSKY: [laughing] Bravo, bravo!... All that is charming but unconvincing, so [to Astrov], my friend, you must let me go on stoking stoves with logs and building sheds of wood. (1.300-02)

And here comes Vanya to spoil the mood, as usual. After the high-minded idea that nature can make everyone better, and probably even better-looking, that Sonya and Astrov put forward, Vanya stamps all over it, ready to burn down the forest like there's no tomorrow. Says just a little bit about his character.

ASTROV: [...W]hen I go past the peasants' woods, which I saved from destruction, or when I hear the hum of my young trees, which I planted with my own hands, I know the climate is a little in my control and that if in a thousand years man is happy, the responsibility for that will in a small way be mine. (1.319-23)

We're getting down to the heart of the matter, which is that Astrov thinks that by saving nature, and taking part in the conservation of the forest, he's having a real, lasting effect on the world. It's the kind of effect he can't get in his practice as a medical doctor, where patients may die and will be forgotten thousands of years from now. It's also interesting that all of his attention, at least as far as making lasting changes is concerned, is directed toward nature and not toward the people around him at this house. They're sure not changing, after all. We guess.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: [...] As Astrov said just now: all of you are mindlessly destroying the forests and soon there'll be nothing left on earth. In the same way you mindlessly destroy a man, and soon thanks to you the earth will have neither loyalty, nor purity, nor the capacity for self-sacrifice. (1.348-52)

Yelena uses the forest as a metaphor for a person, who can be cut down so much that he or she can never grow back. She thinks that Vanya is too cruel, and that he will destroy the Professor with his hatred until there will be no redeeming qualities left in the way the two treat each other.

VOYNITSKY: The rain will pass now and all nature will be refreshed and give a gentle sigh. I alone will not be refreshed by the storm. [...] My feelings are going to waste, like a ray of sunshine falling into a chasm, and I myself am going to waste. (2.128-37)

You're invited to Uncle Vanya's pity party, starting right now. Vanya compares his state of mind to the environment surrounding him. While nature is refreshed by the rain, he is inconsolable because Yelena won't return his love. Finally, he uses a simile to compare his feelings to light that is just swallowed up, never reaching the plants that need it because of the depths of the chasm. That's his love, going to waste on the fickle Yelena.

SONYA: The hay is all cut, it rains every day, everything is rotting—and you're occupied with mirages. (2.260-61)

Sonya is the only one who seems to have any sort of practical relationship with the natural world. She's a country girl, in the end, and knows that no one will be eating if the growing and harvesting doesn't all go right. The rain isn't some cutesy refreshing shower for her; it's the enemy that won't let her hay dry out.

ASTROV: [...] And when they don't know what label to stick to my forehead, they say 'He's a strange man, strange!' I love forests—that's strange; I don't eat meat—that's strange too. They have no direct, clean, free relationship with nature and with people… None, none! (2.332-36)

Aha. So Astrov really just spends all his time making relationships with the trees in the forest because he basically hates his fellow human beings. He obviously feels ethically tied to nature, because he loves forests and won't eat meat. And his criticism toward others has to do with the way that they deal with nature (first) and (then) people, which shows us his priorities.

Uncle Vanya Man and the Natural World Study Group

Ask questions, get answers, and discuss with others.

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

This is a premium product

Please Wait...