Literature Study GuidesUncle VanyaAct 4 After Yelena And Serebryakovs Departure Summary

Uncle Vanya | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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Uncle Vanya | Act 4, After Yelena and Serebryakov's Departure | Summary

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Summary

After Yelena and Serebryakov leave, Marina, Astrov, Sonya, Marya, and Vanya gather in Vanya's room. Vanya expresses his desire to work, and Sonya names what work needs to be done first. They both start to pay the bills, while Astrov packs up his maps and says he'll be back in the summer.

After Astrov leaves, Vanya and Sonya talk. Vanya tenderly strokes her hair and tells her how worn out he is. Sonya attempts to encourage him by saying, "You just have to live. ... We'll bear whatever comes our way." She explains they need to keep working even though they will "never know peace." She describes her belief in an afterworld in which they will have a "new life, bright and shining and elegant" and they will not know suffering. Instead, their lives will be "peaceful, soft, and sweet, like a caress."

Analysis

Vanya has attributed Serebryakov as the source of his dissatisfaction with life. Now that Serebryakov and Yelena are gone, he tries to get back to the routine he had before they came to live with him. He throws himself into work, a busy activity that numbs his thoughts about whether his life has meaning and if he is doing something with it that brings him happiness. He appears to shelve the desire to transform his life that he expressed to Astrov and accept "there's nothing left" for him.

Vanya's inability to find meaning in life depresses him, but Sonya is more accepting of her situation. She is willing to work hard "for other people" instead of creating something for herself. She knows there will be no reward for her hard work during her lifetime, but she expects to find happiness after she dies. Her resigned attitude expresses the belief in destiny representative of many of Chekhov's characters, including Vanya. They believe there is nothing they can do to alter their lives; whatever is meant to be will happen. Vanya for example does not try to change his life. He complains about things and stops working because of his unhappiness, but he fails to take action to change things for himself.

In contrast, Serebryakov does take sudden action, even though Vanya considers him a fraud who has created nothing. Serebryakov realizes he does not feel comfortable or productive at the country estate, so he removes himself from it. While Vanya may be justified in his assessment of Serebryakov's professional achievements, Serebryakov proves to be a man of action who is not going to be defined by the limitations of the country estate.

For some reason, Vanya refuses to do the same. When Serebryakov gives him the opportunity to change his situation by taking a higher salary, Vanya declines to do so. In this last act he expresses his desire for everything to stay the same. The familiar may bring unhappiness, but it is what he knows and he embraces the lack of conflict that accompanies it. Chekhov ends the play on Sonia's coda, giving no insights into how her words affect Vanya other than her comment that Vanya is weeping. Does he accept or reject his words? Is he weeping because he is saddened that there will be no reward for his hard work until the afterlife? Or is he weeping because he does not believe in an afterlife and knows there will never be a reward for his hard work? Chekhov doesn't say, and the play ends without giving readers or viewers any sense of what the future will bring, other than Vanya expressing his melancholy, which is reinforced by Telegin's tuning his guitar.

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