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Chekhov’s ‘Gooseberries’ is a story of two brothers who pursue happiness in their own ways. The story provides ample opportunities, to examine critically the ways they have chosen. The extent to which they attain their goals is also worth considering.
Ivan Ivanich– a veterinary surgeon
Nicholai Ivanich– a government official who is now a landowner, Ivan’s younger brother
Bourkin– a schoolmaster
Aliokhin– a farmer
Ivan Begins his Story
It was a dull and cloudy day. Ivan Ivanich, the veterinary surgeon, wanted to tell Bourkin, the schoolmaster, a story about his brother. It began to rain so they took shelter at Aliokhin’s house which was close by. Aliokhin was very pleased to see them. He invited them to the bathing-shed. Ivan Ivanich swam about in the rain even after they were done bathing. Then they went to the house.
Ivan Ivanich began his story. They were two brothers, Ivan Ivanich, and Nicholai Ivanich, who was two years younger. Ivan became a veterinary surgeon, while Nicholai started working at the Exchequer Court when he was nineteen. Their father died with an officer’s rank and left them his title of nobility and a small estate. After his death, the estate went to pay his debts.
The brothers spent their childhood there in the country just like peasants’ children. And people who have experienced the beauty of country life are always drawn to it. So, Nicholai worked in the city all the while thinking of how to get back to the country, and to buy a small farm somewhere by the bank of a river or a lake. Ivan could not sympathise with his desire and thought it was egoism and laziness.
Nicholai’s Dream of a Life in the Country
Nicholai would dream of the life he wanted to have in the country. All his fantasies always had one thing in common- a gooseberry bush. He used to live meagrely and never had enough to eat and drink, dressed like a beggar, and always saved and put his money into the bank to save up and buy a farmhouse. He married an old ugly widow at forty for her money.
After the death of his wife, he began to look out for an estate. He bought three hundred acres with a farmhouse, a cottage, and a park. But there was no orchard, no gooseberry-bush, no duck-pond; there was a river but the water in it was dirty because the estate lay between a brick-yard and a gelatine factory. But Nicholai was not worried about that; he ordered twenty gooseberry-bushes and settled down to a country life.
The previous year, Ivan had gone to visit Nicholai’s estate, Tchimbarshov Corner, or Himalayskoe. He was greeted by a dog and a cook, both as fat as pigs. When he finally met his brother, he too looked like a pig- old, stout, flabby. He was no longer the poor, tired official, but a real landowner and a person of consequence.
Ivan’s Disappointment with his own Life
Something changed in Ivan that day. In the evening, while they were having tea, the cook brought them gooseberries from the bushes. Nicholai was extremely happy because his dearest dream had come true. Ivan saw in him a man who had attained his goal in life, and was pleased with his destiny and with himself. Ivan was filled with despair at this. He wondered why humans must wait for freedom and happiness.
He left his brother early the next morning, and from then on found it impossible to live in town. He wished he were young again so he could change the way he had lived his life. He told Aliokhin to do good while he was young, strong and wealthy. Ivan declared happiness did not exist, and if there was any meaning in life, it was not to be found in their peddling little happiness, but in something reasonable and grand.
Then all three of them sat silently. Ivan Ivanich’s story had satisfied neither Bourkin nor Aliokhin. It was tedious to hear the story of a miserable official who ate gooseberries. They soon went to bed. Ivan Ivanich undressed in silence and lay down. He asked God to forgive him for being a wicked sinner as he undressed. It rained all night long.
This story talks about two brothers who have very different approaches to life. They make us think about the state of human life and happiness. Nicholai gets to live his dream after toiling away all his life, whereas Ivan is miserable at seeing his happiness. His questions make us wonder what happiness really is.