Gooseberries - An interpretation

Gooseberries, the short story written by Anton Chekhov can be read as a discussion on happiness in life.  Does happiness lie in acquiring material possessions?  Ivan Ivanich refutes the argument of Tolstoy in "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"  Six feet of land is good only for a corpse.  Man has greater aspirations.  Man's liberation depends upon his freedom to roam the entire earth and to exercise his free will.

Chekhov provokes a philosophical discussion on what happiness is.  The pursuit of happiness can be silly and narrow minded.  Behind all the happy and peaceful facades there are sufferings that go unnoticed and horrors that go unheard.  People go mad, get drunk and children die of starvation.  But we want to shut ourselves in our happy cocoon.  That happiness is only a gift from the unhappy people who suffer their unhappiness in silence.  It is this hypnosis of the unhappy that makes happiness possible.  In fact happy people should be constantly reminded of this with a knock on their head.

During the pandemic we often hear that "you are not safe until everyone is safe." This is true for happiness also. 

Ivanich realises that he too is guilty of this complacence.   Instead of making statements about every topic under the sun without sincerity, it is important to 'do' something to change the sad reality.

"I left my brother early the next moming, and from that time on I found it impossible to live in town. The peace and quiet of it oppress me. I dare not look in at the windows, for nothing is more dreadful to see than the sight of a happy family, sitting round a table, having tea. I am an old man now and am no good for the struggle. I commenced late. I can only grieve within my soul, and fret and sulk. At night my head buzzes with the rush of my thoughts and I cannot sleep. ... Ah! If I were young!" 

Why is the sight of a happy family so dreadful?  Because people don't see that there is sadness waiting at the door to enter.  So while you are still young, you should do good for others.

Ivanich says that people should look for meaning in their lives instead of going after petty pursuits of happiness. His complaint against Nicholai is that he is not seeking after the real purpose of life, instead of the illusion of happiness. 

But there are some ironies in the story.  Ivanich does not actually do anything about what he preaches.  He only tells others to find meaning in life.  Also he is the one who most enjoys the bath at the bathing shed and life at Aliokhin's house which is very similar to Nicholai's.  The story is written in the latter part of Chekhov's life when he incorporates the modernist and impressionist strains into his writing.  He just leaves the reader with a situation and allows him to arrive at his own conclusions.  

For deeper insights read these comments on goodreads.

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