Study Guide

Uncle Vanya The Home

By Anton Chekhov

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The Home

MARINA: [...] Before they came we always had dinner before one o'clock, like people everywhere else, but with them here it's after six. At night the Professor reads and writes, and suddenly he rings after one in the morning… I ask you, gentlemen. For tea! Wake the servants for him, put on the samovar… What a way to live! (1.68-72)

Marina, the nyanya, is in charge of general upkeep of the home. And for her, what really makes a house a home is whether it runs on schedule. Her concern over Serebryakov and Yelena's intrusion is that they are causing everyone else to live differently, not like everyone else, and that disrupts her feeling of home.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: This house is troubled. Your mother hates everything except her pamphlets and the Professor; the Professor is angry, he doesn't trust me and is frightened of you; Sonya is cross with her father, is cross with me and hasn't talked to me now for two weeks; you hate my husband and openly despise your mother; I'm angry and today I've started to cry twenty times… This house is troubled. (2.133-38)

When we think of a troubled house, we think of sagging ceilings, maybe broken windows, even a ghost infestation. But Yelena is talking about the house as a metaphor for the family. When she says it's troubled, she's talking about all the dysfunctional relationships crisscrossing under one roof.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: [...] But I'm a boring incidental character… In my music and in my husband's house, in all my romances—in a word, in everything, I've always just been an incidental character. (2.460-62)

The home in this statement is like a play. This metaphor creates a play within a play. Yelena compares the family members to characters, and her husband's house to a stage, where she plays only a minor part. This partly speaks to her status as a woman: no one is interested in her as an individual person with thoughts and feelings. She's mostly just property, really. Hot and beautiful property, but still property.

ASTROV: I have my own desk here in the house… In Ivan Petrovich's room. (3.143)

Poor Vanya. We think we'd probably end up just as grouchy as he is if the country doctor had a desk in our bedroom that he could use whenever he wanted. But besides the grouch-factor, we can also see that having a work desk inside of a bedroom means that work, and managing the estate, are Vanya's constant concern.

SEREBRYAKOV: Where are the others? I don't like this house. It's like a maze. Twenty-six huge rooms, everyone wanders off and you never find them. [Rings.] Ask Mariya Vasilyevna and Yelena Andreyevna to come here!

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: I'm here. (3.284-88)

Wow. If the country house has 26 gigantic rooms, we'd like to know what the regular, everyday house is like. Serebryakov compares the family home to a maze, and it's an apt simile, because everyone in it seems lost, or running into a dead end. Sonya's got no prospects for love, and Vanya's got no way out of working for his brother-in-law. Pretty much everyone has reached a dead end in some way.

SEREBRYAKOV: [...] Our estate produces on average not more than two per cent. I propose to sell it. (3.342-43)

Home, sweet home? Not so much. While Sonya, Mariya, Marina, and Vanya all consider the estate their home (it's where their hearts are), Serebryakov obviously sees things differently. For him, it's an investment, and when it stops producing profits for him, he can sell it as easily as closing down his savings account. He doesn't really care about what this means for the people who live there.

VOYNITSKY: Exactly. You'll sell the estate, excellent, a splendid idea… And where would you like me and my old mother and Sonya here to go? (3.354-56)

Hmm. We think that Vanya might be using a little bit of sarcasm with his "exactly," "excellent," and "splendid" adjectives. Of course he's threatened by Serebryakov's proposal because it would mean losing the only home he's known for many, many years. He's also drawing attention to the way Serebryakov thinks of no one but himself.

VOYNITSKY: [...] Until now I've been stupid enough to think this estate belongs to Sonya. My late father bought this estate as a dowry for my sister. Up till now I've been naïve, I assumed we weren't living under Turkish law and I thought the estate had passed from my sister to Sonya. (3.360-64)

Where to begin? Patriarchy, racial stereotypes, and yet another healthy dose of sarcasm are flying our way. Vanya is pointing out that, while Serebryakov is living off the estate's profits, it's not actually his. It belongs legally to Sonya, who also sees it as her home. The deal with Turkish law is that, in Vanya's mind, in Turkey, women like Sonya wouldn't have property rights.

YELENA ANDREYEVNA: I am leaving this hell this very minute. [She is shouting.] I can't stand it any longer! (3.444-45)

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure, and apparently one man's home is another woman's hell. Yelena is talking about the country estate when she says "this hell," and the reason that she can't stand it any longer is that every man there is throwing himself at her. We'd probably want to get out of Dodge, too.

TELEGIN: They got frightened… Yelena Andreyevna was saying, 'I don't want to live here one single hour more… let's just go… We'll stay a while in Kharkov,' she said, 'and take stock, and then send for our things…' They're leaving with no luggage. (4.18-23)

Homelessness sets in for Yelena and Serebryakov at the end of the play. Yelena is so upset by the insanity of the household that she is willing to leave without her suitcase, going where she has nowhere to stay, rather than be in the country house one minute more.

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