Literature Study GuidesUncle VanyaAct 3 Serebryakovs Proposal And Vanyas Anger Summary

Uncle Vanya | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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Uncle Vanya | Act 3, Serebryakov's Proposal and Vanya's Anger | Summary

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Summary

Serebryakov announces his desire to leave the estate. To do so, though, he needs a steady income. Thus he proposes selling the estate so he can purchase "interest-bearing securities and stocks" and buy "a small cottage in Finland." Vanya is outraged at his proposal. His father had purchased the estate for his sister when she married Serebryakov. It had cost 95,000 rubles; he paid 70,000 rubles in cash and took out a loan for the balance. Vanya and his mother had worked for 10 years to pay off the loan, and Vanya had finally erased the debt. After his sister died, the estate went to her daughter, Sonya. Vanya is horrified that Serebryakov thinks so little of his 25 years of hard work: "Now that I've gotten old, you want to toss me out on my ear!" Vanya had given all the profits of the estate to Serebryakov, keeping only "the pitiful sum of fifty rubles a year" for himself. Vanya explains how everything he had done over the last 25 years had been for Serebryakov because he had believed Serebryakov was doing important work. Now, though, he tells him he has realized Serebryakov "know[s] nothing about art" and his work "isn't worth a thing."

Vanya blames Serebryakov for destroying his life, claiming, "I have never, ever lived. Everything was for you and now it's all gone." He feels he has wasted his life because he has used "the best years of [his] life" to work to support Serebryakov. Serebryakov throws off the accusations by telling Vanya he is a "nonentity" and to take the estate if it is his. Vanya begins "babbling" and calling out for his mother. He leaves, and his mother follows. Sonya then asks her father to have pity on her uncle and details how much work he and her grandmother did for him. Yelena chimes in and tells her husband to make peace with Vanya. After Serebryakov leaves the room in search of Vanya, a shot is heard. Serebryakov runs back into the room, followed by Vanya. Yelena tries to take the gun from Vanya, but he shoots again and expresses dismay that he missed and Serebryakov is "not dead." Then he repeatedly asks, "What am I doing?" as Yelena begs to be taken away and Sonya calls for Marina.

Analysis

Vanya's reaction to Serebryakov's proposal reveals the source of his discontent and his dislike of his former brother-in-law. For 25 years he sacrificed everything to send money to his sister's husband. He did so because he admired Serebryakov and thought he would accomplish something important with his work. When he discovered Serebryakov's work was worthless, he became embittered, realizing that he had wasted his own life by supporting Serebryakov's meaningless work. He believes it is too late to find meaning in his own life and has no hope. Like most of Chekhov's characters, Vanya believes he is powerless to effect any positive change in his own life. Simply put, he doesn't try to change his situation and seems to drown in it.

Serebryakov is one of the few characters in this play who does try to change his life. He hates the country life and wants something different. He considers his options and decides selling the estate will make it possible for him to live somewhere else. Whether Serebryakov would find happiness with a change of environment is unknown. He is a chronic complainer about his health and, like his wife, considers himself superior to other people. He belittles Vanya, calling him a "nonentity" and an "insignificant little man." It is likely this is his attitude about people in general, as he locks himself away in his study and has little to do with others.

Vanya's outburst arouses intense emotions in Serebryakov, Yelena, and Sonya. Neither Yelena nor Sonya seems surprised, though: only Serebryakov is stunned. Of all the members of the household, he is the most out of touch with what others are thinking and feeling. He truly seems to have been unaware of what effect his proposal would have on Vanya. As a professor, he lived in an ivory tower of sorts and did not concern himself with the matters of everyday life. This is demonstrated by his claimed ignorance of Vanya's sacrifices, labors, and financial status. He justifies this ignorance by explaining he is "not a practical man": he prides himself on being above the mundane matters of common people. Vanya's shooting at Serebryakov seems more an eruption of anger and frustration than a genuine attempt to kill him. Vanya throws his revolver down, despite the nearness of his target. Having expressed the heat of his passion, he is spent and will remain in frustration and impotence.

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