Animal Cruelty at its Finest

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"Mrs. Popov: Oh, how he loved Toby! He always used to ride on him to visit the Korchagins or the Vlaslovs. How wonderfully he rode! How graceful he was when he pulled at the reins with all his strength! Do you remember? Toby, Toby! Tell them to give him an extra bag of oats today" (385).

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"Mrs. Popov: [lowering her eyes.] Luka, tell them in the stable not to give Toby any oats today" (392).


Well, Chekhov certainly did a great job at portraying the indecisiveness of the human race. Also, I believe he wanted to make a point that human beings have such animalistic qualities about them that they are willing to forsake love after one occurrence of horrible treatment. It's ironic- the man fell in love with the woman after she showed some backbone, and the woman fell in love with the man after his continuous horrific treatment of her. Could this be a political statement? In the 1880's, there was a revolution occurring in Russia which required women to become a part of the labor force. Maybe Chekhov was trying to encourage readers to embrace the role of the new female.

Also, I sort of found that Mrs. Popov is living with her husband vicariously through Toby, the poor horse, further emphasizing Chekov's comparison between humans and animals (with their animal instincts). It's extremely cruel that she didn't feed Toby at all near the end, but I believe that could be for two possible reasons. 1) She could be indicating that she's finally letting her husband's memory go. 2) She and this stranger, since they fell into deep love so quickly, may be going into the barn to do.. you know. I haven't really researched the topic, but I wonder if, along with the social reformation in Russia regarding the roles of women in the working world, there was a sexual revolution, as well.


PS) Brooke has a great entry about this same subject. Check it out:
http://blogs.setonhill.edu/BrookeKuehn/2009/11/poor_toby.html

4 Comments

Brooke Kuehn said:

Interesting point about the symbolism of the animals. I also thought it was cruel that Toby wasnt fed at the end and that that signified Popov letting go of her late husband. However, i never thought about your second point lol. With the humor and randomness of this play, it wouldnt surprise me if that was an intended thought. I feel like this play is a political statement as well as a statement about gender. Smirnov claims he never met a woman as headstrong as Popov and seeing a man become so weak from love, i would assume, was not common in that time period. I am not sure when this play was written though so that could change my analysis.

JessicaOrlowski Author Profile Page said:

The play was written in 1888.I think the reason that the play is so funny (near the end) is because it was NOT common at all to have men become weak from love. If you think about how American men were during World War I or II, you don't exactly see them becoming saps. A reversal of roles only served to emphasize and exaggerate the fact that women were gaining more power. Do you think Chekhov, then, was for or against the emergegnce of women's rights?

Brooke Kuehn said:

DEfinitly for womens rights... I think changing the roles of the genders was making a profound statement about the equaility of the sexes. Knowing now the time period it was written actually makes the characters less obnoxious to me and more revolutionary. I wonder how society took this piece when it was first published. Did they find it humorous or maybe too abstract in its portrayal of men and women? Or maybe the men found it dangerous in that it could empower women. I have no idea but just thought i would throw it out there.

Josie Rush said:

Brooke, I agree that the switching the roles of the man and woman could suggest that Chekov was an advocate of women's rights. I am sadly not familiar with a lot of Chekov's work, so I can only judge by this isolated play, but I think basically stating that the man and the woman's roles are interchangable supports the idea that the two are equal.

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