The Role of Women in Turn-of-the-century and
by Myriam Cyr-Proulx
Chekhov’s short story “The Darling” portrays Olenka Semyonovna, a Russian woman at the turn of the century. Presently called “Darling”, this young woman
only defines herself within the relationship she has with men. Her life is
perceived as meaningless and undefined as soon as Olenka steps out her of
husband’s social entourage.
Chekhov’s characterization of Olenka evokes
criticism about the situation of women in Russia at the time. Chekhov uses Olenka to ridicule
the identity of women at the-turn-of-the-century, which is a result of the
limited role of women during the Pre-Revolutionary Russia. This Pre-Revolutionary Russia excluded women
from politic, economy and also they were refused access to higher education. In
general, they were excluded from any type of social life. As Olenka has no opinion and beliefs of her
own, Chekhov set out a satire to demonstrate his point of view about the role
of women in society. Do women have to sacrifice their own values and knowledge
to live in the shadow of their husband? In the story, Olenka does not only live
in the shadow of the men whom she attaches herself to, she completely becomes
the female version of them. She transformed herself to adjust her identity to
her husband identity.
In “The Darling,” Chekhov chooses to ridicule
not only Olenka’s character, but also Russian social life. He emphasizes and
evokes the loss of the woman’s identity through “selfless maternal love”
and their lack of education. In the
nineteenth century in Russia, women expressed a desire to be freer and to
have the right to equality. However, even though the situation improved for
women, the nineteenth century still held an oppressive lifestyle for women.
They were still limited to traditional social positions.
Chekhov’s short story “The Darling” also
depicted and challenged the place of women in Russia. Olenka is a parody of the limited role of
Russian women. Her character is used to evoke the reader’s uncertainty about
the ideal of gender in society. The ambiguity of the text makes us question
what Chekhov’s intentions are in relation to the role of women in the story. It
is clear, that the author’s “plan was to mock a dependant and an emancipated
In the story, Olenka’s submissive state of mind is a warning to society, a
possibility to react against the concept of the inferiority of women. Chekhov shapes a reality that creates and
places women in a position of vulnerability. Olenka is alienated from herself
and as a result transformed her beliefs into the pre-established role women
have towards men.
Chekhov uses the context of the
turn-of-the-century and the historical context of Russia before the revolution to emphasize and critique
the lack of development of women within their social context. As Chekhov wrote
himself “All I wanted was to say honestly to people: “have a look at yourself
and see how bad and dreary your lives are!” As
an example of prejudice and lack of judgment about the current status of women
in Russia, this satire about this meaningless and lost woman sent out an
important message about identity and how we decide to shape ourselves within
different social contexts.
Finally, Chekhov’s story helps the
reader to see “how not to live”;
he also focuses on the little details of everyday life to indicate the
importance of paying attention to how we develop our identity within our daily
life. Chekhov transgresses the taboo
about the role of women and shows us a glimpse of the unknown power of women.