The story is set in a hospital of a steamer where two discharged soldiers are returning to Russia after serving for many years in Far East with another two soldiers and a sailor. Gusev, the main character of the story is a courteous man who used to work under a naval officer. He is satisfied about his job and now dreaming to join his family soon. His delirious dreams are filled with images of his family’s farm. He is apprehensive that if he does not make it home, the farm will fail and his parents will be thrown into the streets.Order now
The second main character is Pavel Ivanitch, who is educated but choleric and maverick. He considers himself a radical, a truth-teller, and a member of the revolutionary intelligentsia. He mocks Gusev’s optimistic geniality. He further accuses Gusev is blind to realize the oppression he has suffered. Pavel Ivanitch denounces injustice wherever he sees it and has a reputation for being a troublemaker. Even as his illness advances, Pavel Ivanitch protests. And he refuses to believe that he can die like the others; indeed, he insists that he is recovering. While they keep spending time arguing with each other he dies before he makes it home.
After a few days Gusev grows worse too. Meanwhile he starts tormenting by a vague craving, and he could not figure out what he exactly wanted. Shortly afterward, he also dies and his body is sewn up in sailcloth with two iron weights and thrown into sea. The story closes with a description of his body sinking through a school of fish while a brilliant sunset shines above. (C, Jack)
Although Russia was never colonized the author, Chekov brings up two ordinary characters that are suffering under the tyranny which was ruling the country that time.
Gusev and Pavel Ivanitch clearly demonstrate human suffering and injustice that citizens were undergoing. Especially Gusev represents peasants who were on the edge of the society suffering from many distresses and Pavel Ivanitch represents the educated and suppressed middle class. He is a symbol of people who were seeking to stand against so called tyranny and hypocrisy. Using these two ideal characters the author makes people to think of a social reformation which he had been influenced by third world countries he had visited.
The writer denounces and criticizes suffering and injustice mercilessly through Pavel Ivanitch. “To tear a man out of his home, drag him twelve thousand miles away, then to drive him into consumption and. . . and what is it all for, one wonders? To turn him into a servant for some Captain Kopeikin or midshipman Dirka! How logical!” Ivanitch declares his anger to Gusev at the practice of the military of uprooting men from their families to serve some perhaps undeserving officer, trample them and make them ill, by dumping them on hot, crowded ships in the knowledge that they will probably not survive the journey home. But the uneducated and simple-minded peasant Gusev was submissive and barely notices injustice. He humbly accepts his destiny, and his attitude is very authoritarian. Once telling that he was beaten by his master, arouses Pavel Ivanitch’s indignant anger, Gusev feels that he deserved the punishment, as he was behaving violently towards few china men improperly. Indeed, Chekhov seems to be raising the question of whether the peasant class should be completely free, or whether they need strong leadership.
In addition Chekhov invites people to be generous rather than being concerned about themselves and their families. Gusev worries only about what will happen to his family when he is dead, about his brother’s drinking and violence towards his wife, and about the possibility that his old parents will be alienated. While Pavel Ivanitch is obsessed social injustice Gusev worries about his family and business. Gusev’s daydreams about his homeland and family reveals his narrow intentions whereas Pavel Ivanitch peers into every social and political abuse he can find, Gusev’s concerns are more material and immediate. This contrast between Pavel Ivanitch’s concern for humanity as a whole, and Gusev’s more limited concern which only extends to his own family and village lead readers for Chekhov’s hidden intention. Implicit in this contrast is an acknowledgement of the difficulty of achieving social and political reform in a society in which nearly eighty percent of the population was uneducated peasants like Gusev.
These peasants were apprehensive about the welfare and survival of their families, and were unlikely to have the leisure to devote their lives to ending injustice, even assuming that they understood the issues. Apparently there is an incomparable difference between Pavel Ivanitch’s and Gusev’s attitudes to suffering, which mirrors the gulf in nineteenth century Russian society between the intelligentsia and the peasants. Ivanitch does not make much attempt to persuade Gusev and he does not listen too much of what Pavel Ivanitch says too. When Gusev does listen, he misunderstands. Pavel Ivanitch’s impassioned diatribes are shown as useless, not only because Gusev is an unsuitable audience, but because shortly after Pavel Ivanitch’s final assault, on military officers who steal, he dies. This juxtaposition of events suggests the futility of the angry activism exemplified by Pavel Ivanitch.
The steamer that carries the men “cares for nothing,” and the sea on which they travel “has no sense, no pity.” This gives an insight about human suffering and death are transmuted into the joy of life that the system of nature. Both Ivanitch’s bitter rants and Gusev’s humble concerns are rendered insignificant by the fact that they die soon after expressing them and by the implied contrast with the vastness and majesty of the natural world into which their dead bodies are thrown. When Gusev’s body is thrown into the ocean and a shark begins to investigate it, “the pilot-fish are delighted” by the unfolding drama. The story ends with a glorious display of the sunset, with clouds massing “like a triumphal arch.” Nature is shown as possessing positive human characteristics that are absent from the grim and debased human life portrayed in “Gusev”: joy, delight, and celebration.
The two characters in “Gusev” act as foils to each other where Pavel Ivanitch is the protagonist and Gusev is the antagonist of the story. They have contrasting characteristics and respond to life and its sufferings in opposite ways. They also represent the two classes that were involved in the struggle for social justice in nineteenth-century Russia, the peasants and the intelligentsia. Gusev is a discharged soldier from the peasant class.
Gusev is a simple and innocent soldier who has superstitious beliefs about how things work. He seems to be uneducated and further displays submissive and naï¿½ve characteristics. This man sets out in his long voyage after years of critical work to his masters’ in far east. He has been serving as an orderly to a military officer but has been sent home to Russia because he is feeble and dying of tuberculosis. He fails to realize how vague his dream is, while the other soldiers and sailors are convinced that he is too weak to survive anymore. I’d rather call him a selfish man who only thinks of his parents and family and does not bother about the suppression he was facing even when it seems that life will shortly end. Prosperity has not only earned from the poor innocent people but they’ve made their conditions even worse, knowing that they will not survive until they reach their destination their masters set them to Russia just to save their reputations. How revolting? How cruel? To make someone work his whole life just to make a living, outside his own country and at old age to be chasten away, to be thrown away to the ocean when he dies .He fails to realize that all human beings are worth it doesn’t matter whether they are poor or rich.
Gusev is delirious with fever resulting from tuberculosis, so his mind slips in and out of the present reality in the course of the story. He comforts himself by imagining of snow and the cold in his home town. This shows Gusev’s tendency to passively accept injustice and suffering. He preferred thinking about something else rather than confronting problems or protest about them. The method is successful within the limits of Gusev’s narrow awareness. Instead of listening to Paul Ivanitch’s bitter and contemptuous comments, Gusev daydreams about “the folks at home,” with the result that “His happiness takes his breath away.” He has no interest in the wider considerations of social injustice that captivate Paul Ivanitch. During his time as an orderly, Gusev obtusely did his job without thinking about whether it is fair, as Paul Ivanitch rails, to “Uproot a man from home, drag him 12,000 miles, give him tuberculosis,” and make him the servant of some officer. Gusev is pure apolitical and he does not think about such matters like injustice.
When Paul Ivanitch repeatedly tries to alert him to injustice, Gusev completely fails to understand what he is saying. Gusev’s world is his bounded only with his family and his village. He worries about his drunken brother who beats his wife, and does not respect his parents. He worries about his brother’s daughter, Akulka, sticking her legs out on the family sledge and getting frostbitten. He also worries about what will happen to the family after his death: he fears that the home will “go to rack and ruin” and that his parents will be thrown into street. Gusev’s narrow range of interests draws attention to the wider problem of how social injustice could continue persistent in Russia at a time when the majority of the population was people like Gusev: simple, uneducated, passive, and unintelligent.
Gusev is capable of making a sound against injustice but it takes the form of brutal violence. He describes an occasion when he beat up some Chinese men merely for coming into his yard. He does not know why he hit them. The same impulse occurs when he looks through the porthole of the ship and sees a fat Chinese man in a boat. Gusev thinks, for no good reason, “that greasy one needs a good clout on the neck.” Paul Ivanitch doesn’t accept Gusev’s passive acceptance of punishment from the officer for beating up the Chinese men, but it is tempting to conclude not only that Gusev needs to be governed by an authority figure, but also that he deserved his punishment. This persistent idea of him exists throughout the story till he dies making him a consistent character.
Pavel Ivanitch is also a discharged soldier who has served for three years in the Far East and has been discharged because he is dying of tuberculosis. He feels superior to the other men in the ship infirmary, whom he rejects as “a blind, benighted, down-trodden lot.” He is an intellectual who is confident that he sees the truth of humanity’s lot: “I see everything as an eagle or hawk sees it, soaring above the earth.” He is conceited of his quality of just and upright. Moreover he sees injustice everywhere and never hesitates to declare his intense and quick temper regardless of the situation. He regularly persuades placid Gusev to feel a sense of unfairness about the class system and the way he is treated by his superiors. Pavel treats Gusev with utter contempt because he is annoyed by the calm nature of Gusev and lack of comprehension of what he is saying but he does not stop convincing Gusev that he too should denounce social iniquitous. However his idea of meeting of a literary friend displays proficiency of his ideas.
It is typical of Pavel Ivanitch who plans to influence people of his ideas through literature. Nevertheless the material he has to offer is not constructive for reform but tirades against the “verminous bipeds” he has encountered during his service in the Far East. There is insensitivity and lack of humanity, even a cruelty, in Paul Ivanitch’s constantly forcing his anger and views onto the simple and complacent Gusev. Indeed, Pavel Ivanitch enjoys in his reputation as an “insufferable” person, declaring: “I am protest incarnate.” He says, even if he were imprisoned he would not stop his protest. Ivanitch might see political injustices acutely but when it comes to his own condition, he is deluded. When his health deteriorates to the point whereby he can’t even sit up, he does not ready accept that he is weak. “My lungs are all right, this is only a stomach cough.” He boasts of his “critical attitude to my illness and medicines,” in contrast to the ignorance of the other “benighted people.” However, even if he is unaware of his illness more than others, it is of no use to him, a few hours later he is dead.
Style, Tone and Irony
Like in his plays, Chekhov has ignored the established tradition of describing the situation, mood, and internal psychological states of characters in the very beginning of the story. Accordingly a very little action takes place in “Gusev.” Only a few main incidents can be identified throughout the whole story: Gusev and Paul Ivanitch’s non-viable conversations; Gusev’s daydreams, Paul Ivanitch’s diatribes, and both men’s decline through sickness into death followed by their burial at sea. A more traditional story would have taken the characters’ aspirations and made drama out of their fulfillment or frustration. Gusev dreams about his family, and Paul Ivanitch plans to meet a literary friend and telling him of the people he has met abroad. Neither man fulfills these plans, nor does particular emotion surround their on-fulfillment. The plans simply die along with the men. In terms of plot, this is deliberately anti-climactic. However, there is a climax of sorts in “Gusev,” but it consists in the transcendence of nature in the final sunset scene, and Gusev’s joyful somersault into the natural world.
On the other hand, the story sounds more criticizing the inactive, simple-minded peasants. “It’s revolting, the worst of it is they know perfectly well that you can’t last out the long journey, and yet they put you here. Supposing you get as far as the Indian Ocean, what then? It’s horrible to think of it. . . . And that’s their gratitude for your faithful, irreproachable service!” this statement of Ivanitch clearly proves this. Therefore we cannot deduce that the story gives a vague message as the incidents happen in the story does not reach to a proper climax.
The use of dramatic irony can be seen all over the story. When Gusev is on the deck, he sees bullocks and a pony tethered there. The bullocks remind the bull’s head with no eyes, which is already associated in the reader’s mind with Gusev. Gusev stretches out his hand to stroke the pony and Gusev responds with an angry curse when it bites Gusev’s hand. The incident humorously comments on Gusev’s own tendency to lash out violently at innocent people. A unique quality I noticed in Chekhov’s writings is his fair treatment of his characters. This is shown in his use of a similar juxtaposition of events to comment ironically on Paul Ivanitch. After Paul Ivanitch’s long brag about being “protest incarnate,” Gusev looks out through the porthole and sees some Chinese men in a boat holding up cages of canary birds, which they were reselling, and shouting “sing, sing.” Just like the canaries sing in their cages, Paul Ivanitch outbursts ineffectually in the ship’s hospital. In a further irony, Pavel Ivanitch’s boasting of is how he would continue to protest even if he were imprisoned in a cellar gives a sense of humor. He is already stuck in a sick-bay but does not stop wasting his breath. His words just vanish into the air giving no use at all, like the superfluous and meaningless as the canaries’ songs. This implication is convinced by both men’s deaths shortly afterwards.
“It was getting dark; it would soon be night.” The very first line of the story suggests the deaths of Gusev and Ivanitch, convincing Chekhov’s use of symbols. He uses subtle symbolism in order to give insights of his characters. The image of the eyeless bull’s head that frequently enters Gusev’s reverie symbolizes Gusev’s somewhat primitive nature, and its eye-lessness suggests his lack of vision and understanding of the world around him. In addition the black smoke and clouds that drift into his consciousness is similarly suggestive of a fogginess of vision. The fact that the horse and sledge that plays such an important part in Gusev’s reveries “no longer move ahead” when enveloped in the black smoke suggests the stagnation of the peasantry. Chekhov’s skill in using symbolism is evident in the fact that both bull’s heads and black smoke would be familiar sights in Gusev’s village (real black smoke comes from a pottery chimney near his family home). Therefore the images have a naturalistic tone as well as symbolic value.
Sometimes, the association of seemingly unrelated events is used symbolically to comment on the characters. “While they were sailing a big fish came into collision with their ship and stove a hole in it.” Apparently this statement of Gusev does not make any sense but when it’s deeply analyzed the writer has compared Gusev life which is sinking because of the devastation done by his masters.