Literature Study GuidesUncle VanyaAct 1 Astrov Makes His Exit Summary

Uncle Vanya | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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Uncle Vanya | Act 1, Astrov Makes His Exit | Summary

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Summary

Yefim, a farmhand, appears and tells Astrov he's wanted at the factory. As Astrov prepares to leave, Sonya invites him to come back when he is done. He tells her it will be too late and then turns to Yelena and invites her to come to his place, "with Sonya, of course." He'd like to give her a tour and show her his garden, nursery, and forest preserve. He's immensely proud of his work with trees—and so is Sonya. She tells Yelena how he "plants a new forest every year" and has received awards for his work. She describes his views of trees: they add beauty to the land, teach humans about beauty, and "instill ... higher thoughts and feelings." They also "soften a harsh climate" and make people "kinder and sweeter" because they don't need to "waste their energy battling the elements."

Astrov then gives a monologue on the environmental benefits of forests: they provide a habitat for wildlife, they keep rivers from running "shallower or drying up completely," and they help maintain the climate. He deplores the "wholesale destruction" of trees because humans are "too lazy to bend down and pick up [their] fuel from the ground." Astrov considers it barbaric "to burn this kind of beauty in a stove," especially because doing so "destroy[s] something that cannot be recreated." He considers humans destroyers rather than creators, and he is convinced such actions are making "the earth become poorer and more horrible." He advocates sustainability, preserving the forests and replanting them for future generations—not just for their beauty but to control the climate and protect the environment.

Sonya walks him out of the house and asks when they will see him again. Yelena chides Vanya for his poor behavior to his mother and for picking a fight with her husband at breakfast. She tells him he destroys people just like others destroy the forest. She asks why men "refuse to see a woman's indifference, especially when she belongs to another man." She notes Sonya is in love with the doctor. She herself is shy around the doctor and "can't say a word to him." She thinks Astrov considers her "wicked." Vanya responds by declaring his love for her: "You are my happiness, my life, my youth!" He knows he has no chance with her, but he does not mind as long as he can look at her and listen to her voice. As they go into the house, Yelena tells him his declarations are "excruciating."

Analysis

Sonya is clearly attracted to Astrov. She repeatedly invites him to dinner, she shows interest in him and things he is concerned about, and she speaks glowingly of his work with trees. He treats her deferentially but seems not to notice her personal interest in him. Yelena is married to a much older man, but there's a hint she may also be attracted to the doctor. She tells Vanya she is shy around Astrov and thinks he must consider her wicked. But she is not tongue-tied—she spoke to him earlier and flattered him for being a doctor. The doctor did not say or do anything suggesting he had negative thoughts about her; thus, her "wicked" comment may be more of a projection than a valid perception.

Vanya is attracted to Yelena, but unlike Sonya, he doesn't desire requited love. He will be satisfied as long as he can look at the object of his fascination. He thinks Yelena is beautiful. To him, she represents happiness, life, youth—what might have been if his life had not turned out to be so mundane. She is his lost opportunity. He wants to hold on to the idea that he still has his life in front of him and can find love. This thought sustains him even though he knows there is no chance for a two-way loving relationship with Yelena. True to the types of characters Chekhov creates, Vanya does not try to transform his life, such as by pursuing a relationship with a woman who might be receptive to him. Instead he pines for something he cannot have and pours all his energy into fruitless yearning.

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