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The Bear | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Bear | Quotes


He is in his grave, and I have buried myself between four walls.

Elena Popova, Section 1 (Grief)

The Bear opens with Elena Popova reiterating her decision not to leave her farm to her footman Luka. She knows that her husband Nicolai Mihailovitch was unfaithful to her, but she still believes rebuilding her life without him is impossible. She suggests that she and Nicolai have both died as far as the rest of the world is concerned.


In ten years' time you'll want to be a pea-hen yourself among the officers, but they won't look at you.

Luka, Section 1 (Grief)

Luka genuinely worries about his mistress's future. He expects she will one day move past her grief over Nicolai, but he is afraid that she will be too old to find a second husband by then. Nicolai was Luka's employer as much as Popova, but Luka's loyalty has settled firmly on Popova. He respects his master's memory but encourages Popova to find someone new who will hopefully treat her with more esteem than her former husband.


At last I get here, seventy versts from home, and hope to get something, and I am received by you with a 'state of mind'!

Grigory Smirnov, Section 2 (Money)

A "verst" is a Russian measurement that equals to roughly 0.66 miles or 1.07 kilometers. Grigory Smirnov has traveled around 46 miles or 74 kilometers to reach Popova's house. He is supposed to meet with his creditors the next day. The journey has been wearisome, and his trip is only halfway over. He cannot believe that Popova has chosen to weigh her emotional state over the physical sacrifice he has made, especially because she is the debtor in this situation.


Black eyes, passionate eyes, ruby lips, dimpled cheeks, the moon, whispers, timid breathing—I wouldn't give a brass farthing for the lot, madam!

Grigory Smirnov, Section 3 (Men and Women)

Smirnov lists off some of the physical characteristics and mannerisms commonly associated with beauty. He then roundly dismisses "the lot" as worth less than a brass farthing or one-quarter of a penny. He sees no value in judging people based on their physical appearance or their ability to mimic society's idea of attractive behavior. Smirnov also rejects the moon which often appears in romantic poems and songs. His speech reinforces the previous suggestion that he is a practical man who is unimpressed by shallow displays of emotion.


I used to chatter like a magpie about emancipation, and wasted half my wealth on tender feelings.

Grigory Smirnov, Section 3 (Men and Women)

Smirnov provides a brief glimpse into his past. When he was a young man, he sacrificed his time, money, and pride in the pursuit of women. He praised "emancipation" or the rights of women to determine their own future, and he was rewarded with inconstancy and betrayal every time. The word "chatter" implies that he valued speech over action. Now his priorities have been reversed. He avoids women at all cost and values action over all the pretty speeches in the world. He knows from personal experience how rarely people mean what they say.


You look at one of these poetic creatures ... you have a million transports of joy, and you look into her soul—and see a common crocodile!

Grigory Smirnov, Section 3 (Men and Women)

Crocodiles are associated with deception in many cultures because of their appearance and hunting methods. A crocodile's teeth extend over its jaw, so it looks from a distance as if it is smiling. It also hunts by luring its prey into a false sense of security. A crocodile will hide beneath the water or pretend to be docile until an animal strays within reach. Then the predator latches on and usually refuses to let go until the animal is dead. By comparing women to crocodiles, Smirnov implies that they are deceptive, cunning, and ruthless. They bear little resemblance in his eyes to the vulnerable, "poetic creatures" depicted in romantic ballads.


I breathed in him, I worshipped him as if I were a heathen, and ... and what then?

Elena Popova, Section 3 (Men and Women)

Popova compares her adoration for her husband Nicolai to idolatry or the practice of worshipping a false god. Her choice of words hints at some degree of reproach at her own behavior. She compares her married self to a "heathen" who attached her love to someone ultimately undeserving of worship. However, she is still resolved to devote the rest of her life to Nicolai's memory even though at least part of her condemns her loyalty to her unfaithful husband.


There lives the mysterious Tamara who, for the love of her husband, buried herself between four walls.

Grigory Smirnov, Section 3 (Men and Women)

Smirnov implies through his mockery of Popova that she has devoted herself to grief because she wishes the world to witness her selfless devotion to a flawed husband. He believes she is more interested in other peoples' opinion of her and in fulfilling some artistic ideal than in acting on her own, genuine feelings. His words inadvertently echo Popova's own promise in the beginning of the play to bury herself inside her home. Like Luka he does not believe Popova's extended display of grief is logical, especially now that Popova has admitted Nicolai was unfaithful.


Devil take it, if you want equality of rights you can have it.

Grigory Smirnov, Section 4 (An Insult and a Challenge)

Smirnov argues that women should be held to the same social standards as men if they want to have equal rights. In 19th century Russia, duels were more common than in previous centuries. They were used to solve disputes between members of the middle and upper classes particularly in matters regarding a person's honor. Popova has insulted Smirnov, and he demands satisfaction. If a man had said the same words to him, Smirnov wouldn't have hesitated to challenge him to a duel. He insists that Popova should be forced to hazard her safety like a man if she wishes to act like one in her conversations. Of course, he does not expect Popova to actually rise to the challenge. He believes the threat of a duel will be enough to make Popova apologize and pay her husband's debt.


You've frightened her to death, and now you want to shoot her!

Luka, Section 5 (Confession)

Luka's protestation shows that he does not know Popova as much as he thinks. He believes she is frightened by Smirnov's challenge, when in reality Popova seized upon the idea the moment it was presented. In the end Smirnov has to back down from the duel because Popova will not yield. Luka imagines Popova is a vulnerable woman who needs protection despite all evidence to the contrary.


Not a sour-faced jellybag, but fire, gunpowder, a rocket!

Grigory Smirnov, Section 5 (Confession)

Smirnov falls in love with Popova not for her beauty or grace but because of the strength of her character. He admires her "fire" and her refusal to back down from a challenge. He had assumed that all women are passive aggressive, manipulative people who would shrink from an open confrontation. Smirnov compares the past women in his life to "jellybags" or strainers which pull the juice out of everything and leave dry husks behind. Popova embodies a much older depiction of women. In Smirnov's current culture, women are supposed to be seen as helpless flowers, but they were once portrayed as shield maidens and warrior queens. Smirnov realizes he has gravely underestimated Popova's inner character by judging her based on a single gender stereotype.


The great thing is to keep cool and aim steadily ... Try not to jerk your arm.

Grigory Smirnov, Section 5 (Confession)

Smirnov shifts from threatening to kill Popova to teaching her how to more effectively shoot him. Chekhov makes use of situational irony in this interaction. Situational irony occurs when readers are led to expect one outcome and then a totally different scenario plays out. Chekhov leads his readers to expect a dramatic duel between Popova and Smirnov, but instead he gives them a comedic scene where Smirnov endeavors to improve Popova's dueling ability even though it puts him at risk.


It's inconvenient to shoot in a room, let's go into the garden.

Elena Popova, Section 5 (Confession)

Popova's concern for her house's walls is an example of surreal humor which is based on a deliberate violation of logic. Logically, Popova should be worried about her own safety. She has been challenged to a duel by Smirnov which could theoretically result in one of their deaths. However, Popova's attention remains fixed on the ideas of inconvenience and impropriety. It would be improper to duel inside and cause potential property damage. Popova's lack of concern for her physical wellbeing also suggests that she does not believe the duel will actually result in bloodshed. Like with her husband's death, she is more concerned with the proper form of the thing than the thing itself.


I can put a bullet through a coin tossed into the air as it comes down ... I own some fine horses ... Will you be my wife?

Grigory Smirnov, Section 6 (Realization)

Smirnov argued earlier in the play that he has no concern for Popova's opinion of him. He claims he has abandoned any interest in impressing women, and then he desperately rattles off reasons why Popova should accept him as a husband before blurting out his proposal. His admiration for Popova has completely obliterated his objections to romance, and he is determined not to lose her.


Nothing, go away ... No, stop ... No, go away, go away!

Elena Popova, Section 6 (Realization)

The Bear is a play about two people who do not really know what they want. Popova begins the play convinced she wants nothing more than to live out a quiet life of solitude in mourning for her husband. Smirnov believes he will be happy if he can collect Nicolai's debt and repay his own creditors. Even at the end of the play, Popova and Smirnov have difficulty defining their desires. Smirnov both loves and is infuriated by Popova. She meanwhile wants him to leave and also to stay with her forever.

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