Study Guide

Uncle Vanya Sacrifice

By Anton Chekhov

Advertisement - Guide continues below


VOYNITSKY: [...] I used not to have a spare minute, Sonya and I worked—my goodness, how we worked, and now only Sonya works and I sleep, eat and drink… That's no good! (1.62-65)

It's interesting that Vanya believes that he's the one who has suffered so much, when really Sonya is the only one we ever see working like Vanya talks about. In fact, Vanya himself is living it up like Serebryakov and letting his niece work to keep everyone swimming in vodka and tea.

TELEGIN: [...] Because of my unprepossessing looks my wife ran off the day after our wedding with a man she loved. Since then I haven't abandoned my duty. I still love her and am faithful to her, I help with what I can and have given up my property for the education of the children she had by the man she loved. I lost my happiness but I kept my pride. (1.161-66)

Poor Waffle. He, too, has sacrificed his life for someone else—his horrible wife—but he doesn't complain about it like Vanya does. In fact, the only reason he brings it up is to show everyone that it's the right and proper thing to do, nothing to moan about. He associates sacrifice with pride, while others associate it with loserdom.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: Yesterday evening he was depressed, complained of pains in the legs, but today he's all right.

ASTROV: And I killed myself galloping thirty versts. Well, no matter, it's not the first time. (1.179-82)

An important part of sacrifice is that it is worthwhile. Otherwise it's just, well, a mistake. And Astrov sees that when he arrives after having run like a maniac to the emergency they called him for. Serebryakov, supposedly very sick, is actually just fine, and no one seems to appreciate Astrov's sacrifice.

SEREBRYAKOV: [...] I'm not stupid and I understand. You are young, healthy, beautiful, you want to live, and I am an old man, almost a corpse. Well? Do you think I don't understand? And of course it's absurd that I'm still alive. But wait a little and I'll soon set all of you free. I won't hold out much longer. (2.31-35)

Serebryakov is accused of living off of his daughter, Sonya's, and Vanya's sacrifices, which he seems completely unaware of. However, he is explicitly asking his wife to sacrifice her youth and just wait around for him to die. The blindness on the one hand and the awareness here are a strange contrast, though it's also true that Serebryakov is giving Yelena a Class A guilt trip. It makes you wonder a little bit whether Yelena really is just waiting around for the old guy to drop. It might explain a few things, right?

VOYNITSKY: [...] How deceived I was! I worshiped the Professor, that pathetic victim of gout, worked for him like an ox! Sonya and I squeezed the last juice out of this estate; we traded like kulaks in vegetable oil and dried peas and curd cheese, we ourselves hardly had enough to eat in order to make the pennies and kopecks into thousands and send them to him. (2.194-99)

Ivan's big problem is the disappointment he has experienced. He used to think that by sacrificing all of his own desires and doing what the Professor asked he would be repaid. He compares himself to an ox, a strong work animal, and to kulaks, who were the rich peasants in pre-Revolutionary Russia, to show the difference between how hard he worked and what his rewards were.

ASTROV: She has no responsibilities, others work for her… It's true, isn't it? (2.304-05)

The Doctor is talking about Yelena here, and sort of thinking aloud about her character. He hits the nail on the head about one thing that several people point out over the course of the play. It's that Yelena doesn't work, but everyone seems to be breaking their backs to try to please her. Between her and Serebryakov, it's a massacre of sacrifices. It's also not too different from the situation in Russia in general, with huge masses of people working day and night for the benefit of a very small number of rich people.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: [taking him by the hand] You don't love her, I can see it in your eyes… She is suffering… You must understand that and … stop coming here. (3.211-13)

Yelena and Astrov are having a tender moment together even while they talk about Sonya and what Astrov's lack of feelings for her means to her. When Yelena asks him to stop coming over, ostensibly because it tortures the girl, she's actually making quite a sacrifice because she has feelings for Astrov and would like him to continue to come.

ASTROV: [...] But if she is suffering, then of course… (3.224-25)

Astrov agrees to go along with Yelena's proposal that they sacrifice their own potential relationship in order to spare Sonya's feelings. The "of course" at the end of the line shows that Astrov has a strong sense of ethics in certain things, like his friendship with Sonya, and is willing to sacrifice his own happiness with Yelena to protect it. Also, it's not like he can really have Yelena, anyway. We highly doubt this lady is going to ditch her hubby or have an affair with a younger dude, even if she wants to. She's way too careful about the rules for that. So maybe Astrov's sacrifice isn't so huge in the end.

VOYNITSKY: [...] This estate would not have been bought if I had not given up my inheritance in favour of my sister, whom I dearly loved. What's more, I worked like an ox for ten years and paid off the entire mortgage... (3.388-91)

This is incredible. Can you imagine doing what Vanya did for one of your siblings? He threw his own inheritance in with his sister's so that she would have enough to marry Serebryakov and had to take out a mortgage on top of things to pay the whole estate off. He himself paid the mortgage for the house that his sister and Serebryakov lived in. He must have had some motivation for making this sacrifice, but the payoff just wasn't there.

VOYNITSKY: For twenty-five years I've managed this estate, worked, sent you money like the most conscientious steward and over that whole time you haven't thanked me once. The whole time—both when I was young and now—I've been getting a salary of five hundred roubles a year from you—a beggar's wage—and you haven't once thought of increasing my salary by a single rouble! (3.402-08)

This accusation is a little bit tricky, because just before Vanya had claimed that he had made a huge, conscious sacrifice for his sister. Here, though, he's expecting Serebryakov to notice the sacrifice and reward it. The fact that his sister has died makes it pretty much impossible for him to ever get his due.

Uncle Vanya Sacrifice 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...