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Literature Study GuidesThe BearSection 3 Men And Women Summary

The Bear | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Bear | Section 3 (Men and Women) | Summary



Grigory Smirnov is left alone with his fury after Elena Popova's departure from the room. He talks to himself and lists everything that has gone wrong on his trip so far. He blames himself for being too gentle with his debtors in the past. Smirnov becomes so worked up that he can hardly breathe. He shouts for a waiter in the hopes he can get something to drink. Luka steps in, listens to Smirnov's demand for either water or a fermented drink called kvass, and then leaves again. When Luka returns with Smirnov's water, he informs Smirnov that Popova feels ill and refuses to see anyone. Smirnov shouts at Luka to leave. Smirnov resolves to stay until Popova settles the debt. He yells for Luka again and this time demands vodka which Luka promptly fetches. Luka hesitantly warns Smirnov that he is acting in an improper manner. He is a guest in Popova's house, and propriety states he should act with more humility. Smirnov shouts at him again. Luka concludes Smirnov is the devil. Luka leaves.

Smirnov yells for Luka to come back, and instead Popova enters the room. She asks him to please cease shouting. She reiterates that she has "no money to spare," so there is no point in Smirnov remaining in her house. Smirnov shouts at her. Popova accuses him of impropriety. He mocks her and then launches into a speech against women when she calls him "silly and rude." He explains that he once worshipped women and gave up half his fortune to please various lovers. They all betrayed him in the end. Now he has determined that all women are useless, manipulative creatures who never sacrifice anything for love. He insists that men are the only faithful people in a relationship. Popova responds by describing her dead husband's numerous affairs and her continuing loyalty in spite of all his flaws. She proclaims she will never leave her house and will die in the same black clothes she is currently wearing.

Smirnov laughs at Popova. He argues that she dresses in mourning because she wishes to inspire respect and adoration for her undying devotion to Nicolai. According to Smirnov she adopted this behavior because it is "so mysterious, so poetic!" He believes she wants to stir up sympathy for her tragic plight so that one day strangers will tell stories about her. He concludes, "You may have buried yourself alive, but you haven't forgotten to powder your face!" Popova is outraged by Smirnov's insinuation that she is acting under wholly selfish designs. She swears she will never repay her husband's debt after the way Smirnov has insulted her. Smirnov refuses to leave regardless.


The idea of gender expectations comes to a head during Popova and Smirnov's second argument. Smirnov has already failed the first encounter because Popova left without giving him what he wanted. He works himself up in preparation for the second encounter which he knows is bound to happen. He refuses to leave, so eventually Popova will have to face him again. Then he will have a second chance to impress the urgency of his situation upon her. However, he quickly becomes distracted from his stated goal of claiming his overdue payment when Popova returns. Her accusation that he does not "know how to behave before women" upsets him to the point where he lays aside his original motive so he can teach her a thing or two about women. He uses his personal pain as evidence of women's faithlessness and men's virtue, unaware that Popova has a few stories of her own.

Both Smirnov and Popova are victims of lovers who took advantage of their feelings for personal gain. Smirnov lost half his fortune in the pursuit of love. Popova surrendered her innocence and youthful optimism to a husband who took her commitment for granted. They are both thoroughly-wounded individuals who take their anger out on each other. Smirnov argues that men are taught to treat women like "poetic creatures" and to suffer and make sacrifices on their behalf, but women are allowed to act in a childish manner even when they are adults. He asks Popova, "Tell me truthfully, have you ever seen a woman who was sincere, faithful, and constant?" His past experiences have left him jaded toward love and perfectly willing to lump all women together into the same category. Popova's relationship with Nicolai similarly taught her to distrust men. She saw her husband make love to other women with blissful unconcern over how it affected her. Like Smirnov she offered up her time, her money, and her heart for love, and she was betrayed.

Smirnov and Popova are so wrapped up in their conflict that they do not realize how much they have in common. Instead they focus on venting their respective feelings of humiliation and frustration with the opposite sex. They also argue about the best way to cope with pain. Popova believes her dedication to mourning Nicolai in spite of his flaws does her credit. Smirnov in turn believes she is far too concerned with how the world sees her. He asserts that she has exaggerated her tragic circumstances for the sake of self-aggrandizement. He laughs at her when she calls her mourning attire "weeds" because she looks perfectly fine from his perspective. She likes to see herself as a forlorn widow who has abandoned all concern for other peoples' opinions, but Smirnov points out that she still remembered to put her makeup on. He dismisses her method of coping with her husband's betrayal and death as more of a theatrical display than a heartfelt expression of grief. He seems to forget that he just made a passionate speech about all the things he has sacrificed for love. Smirnov and Popova both believe they are the tragic heroes in their lives and refuse to move on if it means surrendering this role.

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