Anton Chekhov is known as master of human psychology, which he is able to express by subtle implications in his plays. The Brute is obviously not the most famous of his works, yet has the same vision of human nature and relationships. In a short one act play, the author reveals an idea that human feelings and love stories are unpredictable. It also focuses on the way of human recovery and on life’s domination over death, guilt and sorrow. The unexpected development of romance between the two characters reinforces the fact that people know little about their nature and their inner world, but when exposed to extreme situations they appear to see their true face underneath their own masks and stereotypes.
The play tells a story of Mrs. Popov, a young widow, who has been mourning after late husband for seven months and has no wish to stop it. She secludes herself in her estate and does not wish to communicate with outsiders. Her footman Luka is the only person who she talks to, and she does not listen to his begging to stop mourning. The situation is worsened by the fact that her husband left debts for her to pay. Her neighbor, Mr. Smirnov visits her in order to demand the money that he owed to him because he is under pressure from creditors too. She refuses to do so and in the course of the further argument about love and relationships he calls her for a duel and she accepts. Fascinated by her courage, Smirnov discovers that he is falling in love with her and confesses her feelings to her. In her turn, she suddenly realizes that she has the same feelings for him.
The whole play, “a joke in one act” as labeled by the author, is based on the transformation of the characters from who they seem to be to who they really are. The effect is comic because this transformation is so quick, yet the essence of this transformation is psychologically true. Moreover, because they can hardly bear each other at the beginning, they become catalyzers for transformation of each other. In order to understand who the characters discover and reveal their true nature, it is worth considering them in a detail.
Mrs. Elena Popov is a young woman, quite wealthy, who lost her husband and but continues to be dependent on him. Even when he is dead, she wants to prove her loyalty to him although she knows that he was not worth. He did not treat her properly, insulted and cheated on her, ignored for weeks. This apparently hurt the woman very much but she had a stereotype of a good wife in her head, and wants to follow it. In fact, she believes that this kind of self-sacrifice is very romantic and that her efforts should be appreciated by her husband, although she realizes that he is dead and cannot see. Still, everything that she does including mourning and seclusion is done for him in order to prove how good she is and how wrong he was to her. In fact, she is still talking to him, which proves she is not free from this attachment: ”You shall see, my Popov, how a wife can love and forgive…Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, Popov? Here is your little wife, being good, being faithful, so faithful that she’s locked up hear waiting for her funeral” (Chekhov 724). So, she is so used to wearing this mask, that she finds secret pleasure and romanticism in her situation: “My life is done. He is in his grave. I have buried myself alive in this house. We are both in our graves” (Chekhov 723).
So, Mrs. Popov is serious about her status as a widow because it gives her hidden advantages, which she does not realize at the moment. Yet, when Smirnov appears, he provokes her by telling what he thinks about his behavior in his straightforward manner: “ Buried till when? Till some little poet…comes riding by and asks: “Can that be a house of the mysterious Tamara who for love of her late husband has buried herself alive, vowing to see no man?” Ha! You may have buried herself alive, Mrs.Popov, but you haven’t forgotten to powder your nose” ( Chekhov 730). Because they are polarities, a coarse down-to-earth man, former officer, “a brute” and a romantic lady, the man’s words work as cold shower for her. She is outraged by his speech because he breaks the aura of romanticism and martyrdom about her commitment to bury herself for the world. Yet, deep in her heart she realizes that he is right about her motives, yet she cannot accept this immediately.
However, at this point the transformation has already begun and it takes several steps to take the challenge of duel and then confess to herself that she like this “brute” and does not mind at all marrying him. This is no way a mystical change because the heroine’s personality does not change but is rather rediscovered. She is like a sleeping beauty who has been woken up from sleep and who became alive and full of emotions, which is in fact who she is in reality. At the end of the play her mask and her true identity struggle and she cannot decide if it is better to be decent or to be happy. In the end, she appears to be courageous enough to choose happiness and at this moment her delusion about her late husband disappears. This is expressed by the author through her refusal to take special care of her husband’s favorite horse, which she always did before.
Thus, as can be seen, Mr. Smirnov affects Mrs. Popov by his provocative behavior, which suddenly makes her wake up and sees the truth, refusing from illusion. However, Smirnov himself is also in delusion from what he is. He believes to hate women because of his past issues with them, so he promises to himself to never fall in love with anyone again. He is into a stereotype about women who, in his opinion, are absolutely unbearable: “Yes, dear lady, women.
young or old, are false, petty, vain, cruel, malicious, unreasonable. As for intelligence, any sparrow could give them points…a crocodile with illusion, a crocodile that imagines that tender sentiments are her own special province, a crocodile that thinks itself queen of the realm of love”( Chekhov 729). Thus, he believes him to be more experienced in love matters and boasts of a number of women who left him and those whom he left. So he thinks that based on his rich experience, nothing can surprise him about women, because he is totally disappointed about them.
Yet, in the course of emotional conversation with Mrs. Popov he discovers that she makes him so angry that he suddenly offers a duel between them. This idea, however mad it sounds, reflects his internal desire to prove himself to women. In this context, he is very similar to his opponent who wants to prove her worthiness to her late husband. So, behind this scornful attitude and rudeness, utter inconfidence hides, which prevents him from trusting a woman. Like Mrs. Popov, he is also secretly comfortable with his stereotypes, which help him keep a distance from women. However, Elena wakes him up by her acting completely out of stereotypes, which makes them shatter. As a result, in a single moment Smirnov cannot act in the same way because reality is revealed to him. He wakes up and realizes that he admires her beauty and his courage and that it is impossible to play the old role any longer. His confession of love looks spontaneous, as well as offering a marriage, yet it should not be forgotten that a play is a condensed essence of reality. Indeed, his confession is comic and awkward but it is sincere and it reveals his emotional nature and need for love, which he has denied for such a long time. He realizes that he has lied to himself for too long, but suddenly his integrity is back: “Decide! I'm a pretty decent chap.Landed gentleman, I should say. Ten thousand a year. Good stable. Throw a kopeck up in the air, and I’ll put a bullet through it. Will you marry me?” ( Chekhov 733)
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Thus, the play Brute by Chekhov deals with the theme of transformation and true knowledge of their own personality. The two characters are delusioned about who they are and use a certain stereotype to justify their behavior. Yet, meeting each other in a very emotional situation triggers their hidden impulses and makes their true personalities emerge. As a result, they realize that their beliefs were wrong and that it is time to live according to who they really are. The development of the plot reveals a shift from destructive strategies to constructive ones, to integrity and courage to be vulnerable and sincere.