Literature Study GuidesUncle VanyaAct 1 In Vanyas Garden Summary

Uncle Vanya | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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Uncle Vanya | Act 1, In Vanya's Garden | Summary

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Uncle Vanya is a play written in four acts. For the purposes of summary and analysis, this study guide further breaks down acts based on groups of characters and their interactions.

Summary

It's an ordinary day at the country house where Vanya lives with his niece, Sonya; his mother, Marya Vassilevna; Sonya's father, Serebryakov; and Serebryakov's wife, Yelena Andreevna. Astrov, a doctor, and Marina, Sonya's former nanny, chat on the terrace where a table is set for tea. Astrov complains he has grown old and changed in the past 10 years. All he does is work—he has not "had one day off"—and he "know[s] no peace." He thinks life is "boring and stupid and filthy." His "feelings have ... deadened," and he does not want or need anything, nor does he "love anyone." Yet, he confides, his "feelings [came] rushing back" when a man he was operating on died during surgery. His conscience convinced him he had killed the man. He worries no one will remember him after he dies, but Marina consoles him. She tells him it does not matter if people remember the dead, "just so long as God does."

After waking from his nap, Vanya joins them. He complains about how disruptive life is since Serebryakov and Yelena have come to live with him and Sonya. He used to work all day, but now all he does is "sleep, eat, drink," and they all keep odd hours. Marina concurs and notes how the professor sleeps until noon and "everything waits on him." Before, she says, they used to have "lunch at one o'clock, like good Christian people everywhere," but now the professor rings the bell in the middle of the night and expects everyone to wake up and wait on him.

Analysis

The play opens with very little action and with a minimal setting and few props. The setting reflects the play's theme of the ordinary, everyday, and mundane. This sets the tone for the play. It will not be action-packed or full of events. Instead, it will focus on the characters, their dialogue, and their interactions with others as they traverse the ordinary, and often boring, events of daily life.

Astrov is not melancholy about anything specific but about how meaningless everything seems and how disconnected he feels from life. He does not desire anything or anyone. He has been stripped of hope, of ambition, of anticipation. Instead, he is just going through the motions of life and the only thing he does is work, lacking close relationships with other human beings and having a sense of emptiness. He seems to be burned out from working so much and from the demands of being a doctor.

Vanya reveals his attitude toward Serebryakov and his wife Yelena. He refers to neither by name, showing his attempt to depersonalize both. Yet he is greatly affected by them, so much so that he is unable, or unwilling, to work—even though that is all he did before they came to live with him. He is most likely experiencing depression and a sense of disillusionment with life, himself, and others. Marina also disapproves of the professor and his wife and finds their custom of eating at odd hours an affront to what "good Christian people everywhere" do. She shows herself to be a stable person whose religious faith gives her the ability to carry on despite disruptions to her daily life outside her normal frame of reference.

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