Literature Study GuidesUncle VanyaAct 1 Vanyas Conflict With His Mother Summary

Uncle Vanya | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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Uncle Vanya | Act 1, Vanya's Conflict with His Mother | Summary

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Summary

Sonya, who is Vanya's niece and the professor's daughter, and Yelena, the professor's wife, come out to the terrace. They are followed by Marya Vassilevna, Vanya's mother. Astrov explains he is at the house because Yelena asked him to come and examine Serebryakov, who she said was very sick. However, when Astrov arrived, Serebryakov was out walking. Yelena explains that her husband was very depressed about his pain the night before, but today he feels better.

Marya announces she has received a letter and pamphlet from a professor. Vanya tells her he doesn't want to hear about it. He complains she's been talking about the pamphlets for "the last fifty years." A year earlier, he decided he no longer wanted to "cloud [his] vision with these scholarly pretensions." He thinks they keep people from seeing what their lives are really like. Because he fell for such ideas, he "wasted [his] life so stupidly when [he] could have had everything." Yelena tries to decrease the tension by commenting how nice the weather is. Vanya agrees it's nice, "especially if you feel like hanging yourself."

Analysis

Despite the bickering between Vanya and Marya Vassilevna, their conversation reveals a genuine relationship. Marya comments on how Vanya has changed in the past year, and Vanya explains why. He used to have an interest in the scholarly publications she received from a professor, but he now believes they are to blame for making him pursue a false path. He realizes they gave him a false sense of hope. This reinforces the possibility he is experiencing depression and is disillusioned with things that used to anchor him to his world. He now has lost interest in something that still matters a great deal to his mother, and he is hostile toward her for discussing it. Vanya feels a great sense of meaninglessness and no longer thinks anything matters.

Marya's observation of Vanya's unpleasantness reveals he has not always acted so churlish. So what is the trigger that has brought about this change? In part, it is Serebryakov and Yelena coming to live with him. A greater reason, however, is the resentment he has toward Serebryakov for his lack of professional success.

Vanya's comment about hanging himself fails to provoke a response, showing his negative, pessimistic outlook on life has become commonplace by now. The others probably think he is just a crabby man and do not perceive him as suicidal.

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