“In Exile” by Chekhov- English Essay
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the small seaport of Taganrog, southern Russia, as the son of a grocer and grandson of a serf, who had bought his own freedom and that of his three sons in 1841. He also taught himself
to read and write. Chekhov’s mother was Yevgenia Morozov, the daughter of a cloth merchant. Chekhov’s childhood was shadowed by his father’s tyranny, religious fanaticism, and long nights in the store. “When I think back on my childhood,” he later said, “it all seems quite gloomy to me.”
“In Exile”, written by Chekhov in 1892, tells of a detailed census of some ten-thousand convicts and settlers condemned to live their lives on that unfriendly island. Chekhov was a doctor as well as a writer, and went to inspect the human conditions of the penal colony. In 1890, Chekhov left the comforts of Moscow and early fame to journey across Siberia to the edge of Russia. His aim: to see for himself the worst evils of the empire. He succeeded, witnessing here flogging, child prostitution, and murder. Chekhov called Sakhalin “the most depressing place in our land I have been,” but would be forever thankful for making the trip. The environment was cold, wet, and there was clay wherever you looked. The story focuses on three main characters; Preacher, Tartar, and Vasily.
Preacher, an old man of sixty, lean and toothless, but broad shouldered and still healthy-looking, was drunk; he would have gone in to sleep long before, but he had a bottle in his pocket. Preacher had known what it was like to live the good life. He was a deacon’s son and new the riches of good food, nice clothes, and a warm bed. Now he is at a point where he can “sleep naked on the ground and eat grass.” Preacher is a man of many words. None of which are compassionate. Preacher takes refuge from his forsaken existence in a bottle of Vodka, which in this era is common place. His days are spent ferrying people from one bank of the Volga River to the other. His nights are spent trying to keep dry and warm. As new convicts arrive on the island, Preacher relishes in telling them there is no hope that anything will get better and there is nothing good on the island. At the first mention of better days, Preacher is quick to inject, “Just foolishness, brother. It’s the devil stirring you up, blast his soul. Don’t listen to him, the evil one! Don’t give in to him.” Preacher is content to live in despair and give up on finding any happiness on Sakhalin Island.
Tatar was ill and weary, and wrapping himself up in his rags was describing how nice it was in the Simbirsk province, and what a beautiful and clever wife he had left behind at home. The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at home, and the same blackness all round. He was not more than twenty five, and now by the light of the camp-fire, with his pale and sick, mournful face, he looked like a boy. He was sent to the island for stealing horses, although he denies being responsible. Although exiled on the island, Tartar has great hopes his wife will join him when his father dies. He speaks of his wife with great admiration. Tartar has hope for happiness and better days. He believes it is better to have one day of happiness than none. The day came when Tartar had heard enough of Preachers’ preaching of despair. He gathered all of his strength and spoke these words, “God created man to be alive, be joyful, be sad and sorrow, but you want nothing….You stone-and God not love you.”
Vasily Sergeich was sent to the island for forging a will. You might say he was sent into exile for chasing money. His life on the island was spent chasing money as well. He needed money to support his wife when she came to live on the island. The day Vasily found out his wife was coming he was jubilant. This was short lived as his wife soon left the desolate island with another man. Although despondent over his wife leaving, his consolation was his daughter. This too kept him chasing money. Vasily was a greedy man, his needs came above all else. Even as his daughter lay dieing of consumption, Vasily would rather let her die than let her leave.
The human condition is a fragile one. The coping ability of each individual denotes the amount of happiness one will find in life. On the Island of Sakhalin, Chekhov saw nothing in the lives of the people that could not be explained and pardoned, and he returns to his ill-fated, “useless people” again and again, not to preach any doctrine of pessimism, but simply because he thought that the world was the better for a certain fragile beauty of their natures and their touching faith in the ultimate salvation of humanity. The characters of this story have all dealt with their life of exile in their own way. One with preaching hopelessness, one with hopes of better days, and one that just survives one day at a time. I find it ironic that Chekhov wrote this story in 1892, as he was sent to live in exile from the intellectuals of Moscow in 1897 due to tuberculosis.
The seagull reader