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Negative transformations of the image of a doctor in the literature of A.P. Chekhov

Din Ikhun

Postgraduate student, Department of the History of Russian Literature, Lomonosov Moscow State University

119991, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Leninskie Gory, 1










Abstract: The object of the study is the images of doctors in the works of A.P. Chekhov from the point of view of the dynamics of their personal qualities. The subject of the study is the nature of these changes, which in most cases are negative for the writer for the professional and personal level of the doctor. The purpose of the article is to describe the phenomenon of personal degradation of a doctor in the literature of A.P. Chekhov: the novels "Ionich", "Belated Flowers", the plays "Uncle Vanya", "Three Sisters". The study was conducted using descriptive, cultural-historical, historical-typological methods, which allowed a comprehensive approach to the problem under study and noted the various features of the personality of doctors in the writer's work in dynamics. The scientific novelty of the study consists in the fact that the degradation of doctors in these works has been revealed. In the story "Ionich", the vulgar, philistine life slowly but inexorably sucks in the main character, Dr. Startsev. Toporkov in the "Flowers of the Belated" sought to get out of poverty, earn as much as possible, but he was powerless in front of greed and became indifferent to people. Astrov in "Uncle Vanya", under the influence of the surrounding county life, became indifferent to people, he does not love anyone, does not want anything. But at the same time, he plants forests, believes that they have a great beneficial effect on people's lives, he utters high words about a person. Abstract love for humanity and indifference to the people who are with him coexist in his soul. The philosophy of doctor Chebutykin in "Three Sisters" is of great importance for understanding the play. It is concluded that the degraded person in the works of A.P. Chekhov is usually a doctor, with the help of whose image the writer seeks to create a contrast between the noble mission of the doctor and his personality.


literature of the XIX century, Anton Chekhov, prose, dramaturgy, image of a doctor, the medicine, Ionich, Flowers are overdue, Uncle Vanya, Three sisters

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.


A.P. Chekhov was a doctor by education. For some time he combined his writing activity with medical practice, living in Melikhovo, treated the surrounding peasants for free. A.P. Chekhov could not help but think about the personality of the doctor, about the qualities that define his professional and human nature, about his role in society, as well as about the changes that sometimes occur with the doctor during his life under the influence of various circumstances. The images of doctors found in the writer's works reflect these thoughts and often become "iconic" images [9, p. 7].

Literature review. The influence on the personality and creativity of A.P. Chekhov of his profession as a doctor was considered by many researchers: T.S. Burygina [2], A.I. Dyukova [6], O.F. Ladoja [12], N.F. Nedelko [18], N.A. Transplantin, V.A. Tereshin [20], etc. The scientific literature examines the prototypes of heroes-doctors in the works of the writer [8], images of doctors as linguistic and cultural types [24], humanistic ideas of the writer associated with the images of doctors [19], and other issues. The images of doctors in individual works by A.P. Chekhov are analyzed [1; 7; 10; 11; 14; 25], including in the comparative aspect [3; 4; 9; 13; 17; 23].

Researchers evaluate the image of a doctor in the prose of A.P. Chekhov in different ways. It is possible to identify a positive interpretation of this image, for example, V.V. Kondratieva believes that the doctors created by the writer in his texts are characterized by "sincere love, humility, asceticism and sacrifice" [9, p. 8]. I.F. Miftakhov and T.V. Gerasimova note that the images of doctors in A.P. Chekhov are often "satirical, critical, depicted with a degree of selfЦirony" [15, p. 99], T.S. Mikhailenko - that A.P. Chekhov's doctors tend to cool down to patients [16, p. 114]. Many literary critics consider A.P. Chekhov's image of a doctor to be dialectical, combining Chekhov's ideas about the ideal of a doctor and the idea of degradation that often occurs with a doctor [21, p. 653]. A.I. Zaitsev notes that doctors in A.P. Chekhov's stories and novels often change: "... Over the years, novice doctors become disillusioned with the ideals of youth, become indifferent to patients" [7, p. 157]. The analysis of the changes noted by A.P. Chekhov in his images of doctors is, in our opinion, the most relevant. It will allow a deeper insight into the author's understanding of the essence of the profession of a doctor.

Research results

A vivid image of a degrading doctor was created by A.P. Chekhov in the story "Ionich", written in 1898. It is interesting to note E.S. Bezborodkina, who writes that in the story "Ionich" the author describes "the problems of the disappearance of a person behind a doctor's white coat" [1, p. 251]. The statement of I.F. is no less figurative.†Gnusova, who sees in the image of Ionich "the fate of a person in the "soul-emptying quagmire of life"" [4, p. 32].

The plot of the story is the story of a zemstvo doctor. Dr. Dmitry Ionovich Startsev comes to the provincial town of S. to work in the local zemstvo. A.P. Chekhov describes the gradual degradation of Startsev, shows how a young university graduate filled with high motives turns into an indifferent and indifferent person to everything.

A peculiar indicator of the transformation of Startsev's personality is his acquaintance with the Turkins family, which is considered the pride of the city. From the point of view of the townsfolk, each member of this family had some kind of talent. Ivan Petrovich Turkin "knew a lot of jokes, charades, sayings, loved to joke and make jokes, and he always had such an expression that it was impossible to understand whether he was joking or talking seriously" [22, vol. 10, p. 24]. His wife Vera Iosifovna "wrote novels and novels and willingly read them aloud to her guests" [Ibid.]. The Turkins' daughter Katerina Ivanovna, in her own opinion and the opinion of others, is a talented pianist.

A.P. Chekhov portrays the Turkin family with great irony, emphasizing that their "advanced" character is imaginary, and all talents are exaggerated. For example, Katerina Ivanovna is completely incompetent, who, playing the piano, "stubbornly hit everything in one place, and it seemed that she would not stop until she punched the key inside the piano" [Ibid., p. 27]. Nevertheless, this family is very attractive to the young doctor. Startsev, along with everyone, admires the talent of the Cat, speaks approvingly about the novel of the hostess of the house, laughs at Ivan Petrovich's jokes.

The author shows how, after several years, Vera Iosifovna still reads her "soporific" novels to the guests, and Ivan Petrovich continues to say the old hackneyed witticisms. Life passes, time passes, but Turkins do not change, they seem to be programmed and behave like dolls. And at the same time they are considered the most talented and interesting in the city With. The townsfolk, Turkins, do not change, but Ionich changes, and for the worse Ц degrades.

At the beginning of the story, we do not see anything in Startsev that could explain his degradation, in the next chapter of the story, Ionich falls in love with a Cat, and there is already something in his feelings that alarms the reader. For example, after the high lyrical rise that happened to him in the scene at the cemetery, the doctor, getting into the wheelchair, thinks quite prosaically: "Oh, you shouldn't get fat!" [Ibid., p. 33]. This is a sharp prosaic interruption. In addition, Startsev is in love, but at the same time does not forget about money: "And they must give a lot of dowry," thought Startsev, listening absently" [Ibid., p. 34].

Startsev's reflections are indicative after waiting for the Cat in the cemetery, when the doctor was "in a state of stupefaction, as if he had been drugged with something sweet and soporific" [Ibid., p. 35]. These reflections demonstrate the complex processes taking place in the doctor's soul, in which two people seem to be talking Ц a lover (romantic) and a rational one. One tries to explain that a potential bride is not a match for a doctor, because "she is spoiled, capricious, sleeps up to two hours, and you are a sexton's son, a zemstvo doctor..." [Ibid., p. 33], the second easily accepts this: "Well?† he thought.†Ц And let" [Ibid.]. One says that Startsev's medical studies will suffer in this marriage: "... Relatives will force you to quit the zemstvo service and live in the city" [Ibid.], Ц the second is already ready to agree with such a "loss": "In the city, so in the city. They will give a dowry, we will set up a situation ..." [Ibid., p. 34]. We see how easily the lyrical part of the doctor's soul retreats under the pressure of rationality. This internal dialogue reflects the changes taking place in the personality of the doctor, and their result, showing that the degradation has taken place, is Startsev's thought about this marriage a few years later: "It's good that I didn't marry her" [Ibid., p. 37].

A.P. Chekhov does not consistently depict the degradation of Startsev, he shows Ionich in different periods of his life, between which years pass, and invites the reader to make his own observations and conclusions.

A reflection of the degradation of the doctor and a sign of the simultaneous gradual improvement of his financial situation are, first of all, the carriages on which the doctor rides. At first he moves on foot or by cab, a year later "he already had his own pair of horses and a coachman Panteleimon in a velvet vest" [Ibid., p. 31]. Four years later, the doctor went to his city patients, whom he prefers to penniless county ones, "no longer left on a pair, but on a troika with bells" [Ibid., p. 35]. At the end of the story, Startsev "rides on a troika with bells and Panteleimon, also plump and red, with a fleshy nape, sits on the box, stretching forward straight, like wooden arms, and shouts to the oncoming "Hold on!"". At the same time, the author is clearly ironic: "... The picture is impressive, and it seems that it is not a man who is going, but a pagan god" [Ibid., p. 40].

The symbol of Startsev's degradation also becomes his fullness: "He became plump, fattened and reluctantly walked because he suffered from shortness of breath" [Ibid., p. 35]. And the results of the changes happening to him are boredom and loneliness: "He is lonely. His life is boring, nothing interests him" [Ibid., p. 41]. Already four years after the start of active medical practice, Dmitry Ionich begins to be annoyed by the lofty words about the noble mission of a zemstvo doctor uttered by a Seal: "What a happiness it is to be a zemstvo doctor, to help sufferers, to serve the people. What happiness!" [Ibid., p. 38], because he himself no longer feels such feelings.

A.P. Chekhov notes the lack of spiritual interests of the hero, the lack of spirituality of his existence: "He avoided such entertainments as theater and concerts, but he played the screw every evening, for three hours, with pleasure" [Ibid., p. 36]. At the same time, Startsev denounces the inhabitants of the city who "did nothing, absolutely nothing, and were not interested in anything, and it was impossible to think of anything to talk about with them" [Ibid., p. 37] Ц and he himself is gradually becoming even worse than they are.

At the beginning of the story, Startsev has good aspirations, a positive life program. He is full of energy and says: "You need to work, you can't live without work" [Ibid., p. 35]. And he really worked, lived in accordance with the correctly chosen goal. Like any young man, the doctor was waiting for happiness and love. He was able to sincerely love Ekaterina Ivanovna, inspired by her purity and freshness, able to do crazy things for her, for example, go to the cemetery at night, able to work hard in the zemstvo hospital "in labor and solitude" [Ibid., p. 39].

But how did a good person with good inclinations turn into an indifferent philistine? Who is to blame for the degradation of Startsev? The environment surrounding reality? That would be the easiest answer... Everything is much more complicated. Obviously, on the one hand, the philistine environment of the city of S. has a negative impact on the doctor and contributes to his degradation, on the other hand, the hero himself does not struggle with this environment.

We repeat, initially nothing is visible that could cause the degradation of Startsev. We also do not find that it is the surrounding philistine life that sucks in the main character, but at the same time his degradation is inexorably and steadily. The doctor worked hard, as originally planned, but eventually turned into an Ionich. This makes it scary.

The environment determines a lot, but a person decides for himself what values he will accept. In him, too, there are forces that gave impetus to the fall. He hardly resists time, which does the work of transformation "imperceptibly, little by little." Others cannot decide his fate for him. When Startsev realized that he had reached a dead end, it was too late to change anything.†

We see a similar image of the doctor in A.P. Chekhov's novella "Belated Flowers", written in 1882. Doctor Toporkov, a former serf, achieved his high financial position solely by intelligence, diligent study and hard work, which causes respect among others. However, Toporkov has also degraded, at least compared to what he was at the seminary and university. He has long been mired in greed, turned his noble profession into a tool for making money, lost the ability to empathize with his patients, delve into their problems, sincerely strive to help them; now he is "a celebrity in a big bear coat" [22, vol. 1, p. 38]. The contradictory image of the doctor in the story "Belated Flowers" is created by the author due to a combination of qualities such as intelligence, the ability to work and help people, on the one hand, and arrogance, insensitivity, greed, on the other.

As a child, Toporkov was humiliated by others (he was given slaps on the head, he was flogged) Ц and, perhaps, in his attitude to people (in particular, in arrogance, almost contempt for others), he takes revenge on people for his previous humiliations.

It can also be assumed that at first Toporkov sought to earn as much as possible because he wanted to get out of the poverty in which he had lived since childhood, and in this quest he did not notice how money gradually became the main goal of his life.

Both Princess Privalova and her children Egorushka and Marusya have sincere respect and gratitude for Dr. Toporkov. However, the doctor shows coldness and insensitivity almost always, except when he receives money from his patients: "A light cloud ran over Toporkov's face, something like the radiance with which saints are written; a smile slightly twitched his mouth" [22, vol. 1, p. 34].

At the same time, the doctor's soul has not yet completely hardened, and he is sincerely touched by Marusia's declaration of love: "...Blushed for the first time during his practice. His eyes blinked like a boy who is put on his knees" [Ibid., p. 42]. Toporkov fell in love, he, a lonely man, was shocked that someone loved him, that he could be loved at all. Toporkov is able to be horrified by the fact that he may be the indirect culprit of the rapid development of the disease in the girl. He is able to take Marusya to warm France for his money and be with her until her death. Toporkov's love partially awakens spiritually, while in the soul of Ionich, love dies without any results.

The positive is combined with the negative also in the image of Dr. Astrov from the play by A.P. Chekhov "Uncle Vanya". Like Ionych and Toporkov, Astrov becomes more aloof and indifferent to people during his work, but at the same time differs from the heroes discussed above in that he is aware of these changes, sometimes is horrified that he has "become a different person" and tries to understand the causes of the degradation that is taking place: "From morning to at night, everyone is on their feet, I do not know peace, and at night you lie under the blanket and are afraid that they will not drag you to the patient. For all the time that you and I have known each other, I have not had a single day free. How not to get old? And life itself is boring, stupid, dirtyЕ This life drags on. You are surrounded by some cranks, all cranks; and you live with them for two or three years and little by little, without noticing yourself, you become a crank" [22, vol. 13, p. 62]. P.N. Dolzhenkov considers it possible to say about Astrov: "A cynical doctor" [5, p. 52].

Astrov plants forests, he works for the benefit of all mankind. However, he is indifferent to the people around him. In the first act, Astrov says: "I don't want anything, I don't need anything, I don't love anyone" [22, vol. 13, p. 108]. Astrov is an indifferent person, and he has been like that from the very beginning of the play. Let's note one episode. When Uncle Vanya steals morphine from Astrov in order to commit suicide, Astrov does not feel sorry for him, does not sympathize, he simply says: "Listen, if you, by all means, want to commit suicide, then go into the forest and shoot yourself there. Give me the morphine, otherwise there will be conversations, guesses, they will think that I gave it to you... It's enough for me that I have to open you up... Do you think it's interesting?" [Ibid., p. 107]. Astrov is not cruel to people, but he is indifferent to them. This is especially striking against the background of the words of Sonya, who is trying to comfort Voynitsky: "Give (morphine. Ц D.I.). Why are you scaring us? (Gently.) Give it back, Uncle Vanya! I may be as unhappy as you are, but I don't despair. I endure and I will endure until my life ends by itself ... Bear with you too" [Ibid., p. 108].

The doctor is no longer able to feel strong feelings for people. K.S. Stanislavsky recalled the importance for A.P. Chekhov of the fact that at the end of the play, when Uncle Vanya whines and suffers, Astrov calmly whistles. This whistling is a consequence of the fact that as a doctor Astrov has lost faith in life and people. The same thing is observed in relation to Elena Andreevna, with whom he says goodbye forever. Astrov calmly says goodbye, talks about the heat in Africa Ц from this we can conclude that he did not love Elena Andreevna, but only wanted to have an affair with her, admired her beauty. If Startsev could still fall in love with a Cat at the beginning of the story, and Toporkov could fall in love with Marusya at the end of "Belated Flowers", then Astrov can no longer love.

But this hero-doctor also has a positive side. Astrov plants forests and performs the duties of a forester. In his opinion, by saving forests, he serves the future happiness of mankind. His behavior is really useful for people. The Doctor is outraged by the thoughtless deforestation, he is horrified by the negative impact of progress on people's lives and on nature, the authorities' inattention to social problems, the prevalence of material interests. Astrov reflects on people's lives, cares about the world around him. He says high words about a person: "Everything should be fine in a person: face, clothes, soul, and thoughts." According to him, "man is gifted with intelligence and creative power to multiply what he has been given, but so far he has not created, but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests, the rivers are drying up, the game is gone, the climate is spoiled, and every day the earth becomes poorer and uglier" [22, vol. 13, p. 71]. Undoubtedly, Astrov exaggerates the role of forests in people's lives, partly in his activities he is driven by an illusion. Living with illusions is quite typical for the heroes of A.P. Chekhov.

The image of Astrov combines abstract love for people in general, humanity and indifference to the people next to him. This combination is one of the important problems in the work of F.M. Dostoevsky, let's recall at least Ivan Karamazov. And A.P. Chekhov has this problem only in "Uncle Vanya".

Let's turn to the play "Three Sisters". Doctor Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin plays a rather important role in the play, he appears already in the first act. The key phrase for a military doctor is: "It doesn't matter!". This phrase reflects the attitude of this hero to life; in his opinion, what is being done and happening does not make sense. For example, when Baron Tuzenbach, the fiance of his most beloved Irina, dies in a duel, he says: "The Baron is a good man, but one baron more, one less Ц does it matter? Let them! It doesn't matter!" [22, vol. 13, p. 177]. That's how he reacted to the death of a man.

Chebutykin does not see high meaning and content in people's lives, he says: "You just said, Baron, our life will be called high; but people are still short... (Gets up.) Look how short I am. It is for my consolation to say that my life is a high, understandable thing" [Ibid., p. 127]. He is not even sure of his own existence and declares: "Maybe it only seems to us that we exist, but in fact we do not exist" [Ibid., p. 161].

Chebutykin's philosophy ("it doesn't matter") is important for the play, first of all for Masha, who says: "Either to know what you live for, or all nonsense, tryn-grass" [Ibid., p. 146]. In the fourth act Masha also says: "It doesn't matter", after she said goodbye to Vershinin forever [Ibid., p. 185], and at the end of the play she comes to the opposite: "We must live!" [Ibid., p. 187].

In the finale of the play Chebutykin sings his "tararabumbia", and Olga exclaims: "If only I knew!" [Ibid., p. 188]. The play ends with a reference to Masha's words quoted by us. "Tararabumbia" and "it doesn't matter", falling in them threaten a person who has not found the high meaning of his life or does not know it.

Chebutykin is 60 years old, in his entire life, after university, he did not read a single book and remained alone in life. At the same time, he cannot be called a negative character. The Doctor loves the three sisters, is attached to them and loved their late mother. He has paternal feelings for the girls and tries to protect them, help them. The three sisters also love him, and they have a trusting relationship with him. Chebutykin is well aware of the situation of the three sisters, and they live soul to soul. The doctor is able to sympathize with his loved ones, and because of the death of the patient, he can go on a binge.


The images of doctors created by A.P. Chekhov are contradictory: they simultaneously demonstrate negative qualities, professional burnout and positive ones Ц the ability to express sincere feelings. Due to the contradictory qualities that A.P. Chekhov considers important to portray, the images of doctors in his works are complex, ambiguous, requiring the reader to reflect. However, the most important process that the writer notes in the personalities of the heroes-doctors is still degradation. The writer shows how almost inevitable changes are inexorably taking place in the personality of a doctor who conducts a constant practice and is daily confronted with the sufferings of patients: he becomes more indifferent, sometimes callous and insensitive. The main negative traits of doctors, manifested in their personality over time, in A.P. Chekhov become indifference, boredom, arrogance, avarice. Note that when a writer portrays a degraded person, it usually becomes a doctor. Apparently, this is due to the fact that A.P. Chekhov wants to create a contrast between the noble mission of the doctor and his personality.

The prospects of the study consist in further in-depth analysis of the images of doctors in each of the considered works of A.P. Chekhov, as well as in his story "Ward No. 6", the play "Ivanov", etc. The transformations of the images of doctors associated with the phenomenon of degradation of the most important personal qualities should be interpreted in a humanistic, ideological way. It is necessary to pay attention to the dialectic of the images of doctors, such as their qualities as activity and inactivity, honesty and hypocrisy, etc.

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The article presented for consideration "Negative transformations of the image of a doctor in the works of A. P. Chekhov", proposed for publication in the magazine "Litera", is undoubtedly relevant, in view of the consideration of the work of one of the famous Russian writers of the 20th century A. P. Chekhov, as well as the transformation of the professional image of a doctor, who, in fact, was the writer, in his works taking into account the realities of the era in question. The author, analyzing the writer's texts, comes to interesting conclusions. Of particular scientific interest is the evolution of the image of a doctor, which can be traced over time. Note that the author illustrates all his conclusions with excerpts from texts that allow us to confirm the assumptions made. The research was carried out in line with modern scientific approaches, the work consists of an introduction containing the formulation of the problem, the main part, traditionally beginning with a review of theoretical sources and scientific directions, a research and final one, which presents the conclusions obtained by the author. However, the author does not delve into the history of the issue under study, as it is unclear from the text of the article: 1) how widely the stated problems have been studied (the author gives only the names of scientists without specifying the conclusions they have received), 2) what scientific gap has been identified, and what problem is being solved within the framework of the peer-reviewed work (what is the specific increment of scientific knowledge?). The bibliography of the article contains 25 sources, among which exclusively domestic works are presented. The lack of references to the research of foreign philologists in national languages does not allow the work to be included in the global scientific paradigm, creating artificial isolation. On the other hand, we emphasize the high quality of the bibliographic list, which includes serious scientific articles on the topic under consideration and related fields, scientific works such as PhD theses and monographs, as well as the relevance of our time, since most of the works were published in the last decade. A technical error was found in source 19. However, the comments made are not critical and do not relate to the content presented by the author. It should be noted that the author sees research prospects in further in-depth analysis of the images of doctors in each of the considered works by A. P. Chekhov, as well as in his story "Ward No. 6", the play "Ivanov", etc. It is important to analyze the transformation of the images of doctors associated with the phenomenon of degradation of the most important personal qualities, which should be interpreted in a humanistic, ideological way. In general, it should be noted that the article was written in a simple, understandable language for the reader, typos, spelling and syntactic errors, inaccuracies in the text of the work were not found. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities. The overall impression after reading the reviewed article is positive, it can be recommended for publication in a scientific journal from the list of the Higher Attestation Commission.
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