Salam all. haha. Another super late post from me ;)
Yup, you're rite. haha
It's been quite a while; n you know what, I've finished my foundation studies (probably)in Nilai :) I don't really have an idea on what to write right now (actually I do but I am too lazy to take pictures of em) so let me pay a tribute to Miss Hanita's drama class with my term paper. haha. It was my first attempt for academic writing, so, start the yawning guys. haha =,=
Anton Chekhov’s The Brute is a farcical play about a brutish creditor, Mr. Grigory S. Smirnov visiting a mourning widow, Mrs. Popov, to collect the debts her husband owed him and the visit turned into a fight which eventually made them fall in love with each other. In the play, the writer incorporates a lot of symbols as ciphers for the themes portrayed. The word symbol itself is derived from the Greek verb “symballein” which means “to put together” and the related noun “symbolon” which means “mark”, “taken” or “sign” (www.scribd.com par. 1). Taken from the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms (2001), a symbol, in the simplest sense, is “anything that stands for or represents something else beyond it – usually an idea conventionally associated with it. In its literal usage, however, a symbol is a specifically evocative kind of image; that is, a word or phrase referring to a concrete object, scene, or action which also has some further significance associated with it. Therefore, it is usually too simple to say that a literary symbol ‘stands for’ some idea as if it were just a convenient substitute for a fixed meaning; it is usually a substantial image in its own right, around which further significances may gather according to differing interpretations” (253). Coming back to the Brute, symbols are placed in the play to add further layers of meanings in its interrelated themes – the importance of starting a new life, the importance of making the right decisions, and rationality versus emotion.
Looking at the first discussed theme, the importance of starting a new life, it is observable that Mrs. Popov does not get the idea of moving on and starting fresh with her life. Instead, she would not stop clinging on to her past; that is, clinging on to the death of Mr. Popov. Thus, in this theme, there are two noticeable issues that should be viewed and studied in terms of literary symbolic approach – clinging on to the past and living the present. Regarding the first issue in this theme, the symbol used to display its significance is the photograph of Mr. Popov. The photograph of Mr. Popov portrays the abstract idea of Mrs. Popov being clung to the past. Photographs literally are of course pictures that are made using a camera that has a film sensitive to light in it (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 1134) but when talking in the context of modern world, they are the recorded memory of the past in the form of pictures. Here, the two keywords that should be highlighted are the words ‘memory’ and ‘past’. Thus, photographs are undeniably the symbol for past memories. For Mrs. Popov to be ‘gazing’ and ‘staring’ at the photograph of Mr. Popov even after seven months of his departure to the afterworld symbolizes that she is still clinging to the bittersweet memories of the past that they shared. Taken from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2009), the word ‘stare’ takes the meaning of “to look at somebody or something for a long time, especially with surprise or fear, or because you are thinking” while the word ‘gaze’ takes the meaning of “to look at somebody or something for a long time, especially with surprise or love, or because you are thinking” (1495). Here, it is clearly observable that the only difference in the definitions of these two words is the emotions associated with them – stare is associated with fear whereas gaze is associated with love. Through common sense, a sane man would know that one only fears and loves when there is something bitter and sweet respectively. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the photograph of Mr. Popov is the symbol of Mrs. Popov’s bittersweet past; hence, the symbol of the abstract idea of Mrs. Popov being clung to the past.
In another context, the photograph of Mr. Popov can also have a second symbolization; it is the symbol of the deceptive past of Mrs. Popov. The common saying ‘looks can be deceiving’ is true yet inaccurate for ‘looks are deceiving’. This can be easily observed in the deceitful nature of a photograph itself. For example, a family may look happy and loving in a photograph but it is not a guarantee that they are what they seem to be in reality; and we know that quarrels and fights are inevitable even in the most united family so the fact that a photograph displays only eternalized smiles and love is unquestionably deceiving. The same situation can be applied for the case of the photograph of Mr. Popov in the Brute. It is common sense that a photograph that someone would gaze upon for seven whole months is a photograph which brings reminiscence of good memories. For Mrs. Popov to be indulging herself with good memories of her late husband is the symbolization of her deceiving herself with selected past memories of them being together; for we know that Mr. Popov is a philandering good-for-nothing husband? Hence, in a word, the photograph of the dead Popov symbolizes the deceitful bittersweet past that Mrs. Popov is clung to – a clear symbolization of the issue of clinging to the past.
The theme of ‘the importance of starting a new life’ is also shaped by the issue of ‘living the present’ (as mentioned before) through the repetitive mentioning of the word ‘water’ by Smirnov. From the viewpoint of Biology, water is the substance that makes life on Earth possible (Biology 46). This is because all living organisms require water more than any other substances since water is the medium that regulates most, if not all, living processes. Hence, water in general is the essence of life. In relation to the play, for Smirnov to be requesting water at first from Luca is a clear symbolization of him requesting for the essence that gives him life; an indication that there is a desire for him to live his present life. On the other hand, it is noticeable in the play that Mrs. Popov never moves from the same spot of her life for over seven months. This shows that she is not living the present, instead, she is living her past – her dark, mournful past. Hence, it is relevant to the fact that Chekhov has made her character to never ask for water – as a symbol of her any desires to live her present life since she never shows any signs of wanting the essence of life, water. The repetitive mentioning of the word ‘water’ is therefore a clear symbolization of the issue of living the present in the theme, ‘the importance of starting a new life’. Thus, when discussing about the importance of starting a new life in the Brute, there are two symbols to note on – the photograph of Mr. Smirnov and water.
The next theme that should be studied in order to understand the literary symbolic approach in the Brute is ‘the importance of making the right decisions’. Decision making is a must in life and this issue is strongly highlighted by Chekhov in his play. Again, symbols are used as ciphers to add further layers of meanings in its themes (as mentioned earlier); and in this particular theme, the symbols used are the door of the Popov’s country house and Mrs. Popov’s steward. A door, based on the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2009), is simply “a piece of wood, glass, etc. that is opened and closed so that people can get in and out of a room, building, etc.” (455). However of course, when we review the definition of symbols from the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms (2001), it is to no surprise that a simple object such as a door holds a very deep meaning; and in this case, the door symbolizes the stupid decisions made by Mrs. Popov that Smirnov decides not to care. The symbolic meaning of the door is obvious particularly near the beginning and the ending of the story when Smirnov decides to barge into the house and when Mrs. Popov shows him the door after he confesses his feelings to Mrs. Popov respectively.
At the beginning of the story, it is evident that Mrs. Popov has made a decision not to have any visitors since she has not finished her overdue mourning (which is clearly not a good decision); and common sense tells that a house which does not welcome visits will have its doors closed. However, Smirnov has his own way of showing that he thinks the decision made by Mrs. Popov is stupid and he does not care about it and this is portrayed though his action of barging into the house even though Luca has made clear to him of what the widow desires – not to have any visitors. Another clear evident that proves the symbolic meaning of the door is at the end of the play when Mrs. Popov is showing Smirnov the door after he confesses his love to her. When one shows another the door, it is very clear that the former wants the latter to leave; but in the play, when Mrs. Popov shows Smirnov the door, he decides not to care what she has decided and continues to confess his inner feelings. Hence, the door of the Popov’s country house is a clear symbolization of the theme ‘the importance of making the right decisions’ and its symbolic meaning is portrayed through Smirnov’s right decisions of not caring Mrs. Popov’s wrong decisions.
Still regarding the theme ‘the importance of making the right decisions’, it is viewable that Chekhov does not only stress on the importance of decision making through the symbolic meaning of the door but also through the use of Mrs. Popov’s steward as a symbol. In the context of literary symbolism, the steward carries the symbolic meaning of Mrs. Popov’s inability to decide and act based on her own rational thinking. Taken from the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2009), the word ‘steward’ takes the literal meaning of “a person employed to manage another person’s property” (1504). The keyword that should be emphasized on is the word ‘manage’ since it defines the field of power a steward is restricted to. In the play, it is very obvious that Mrs. Popov has authorized her steward to more power and authority than the steward should have since the steward is the only one who has the access to the Popov’s money. Sole access to another’s wealth is surely a power much greater than just managing another’s property. The proof of this excessive authority can be obtained from the play the Brute itself, line 28 until line 40 (Kirszner & Mandell 1046) which shows the two main characters – Smirnov and Mrs. Popov, arguing over the fact she has no ready cash in the house where she claims that access to the money is with her steward who is out of town. Thus, the fact that she has given so much authority to the steward is a clear evident that Mrs. Popov is not making decisions based on rational thinking; hence, explaining the idea that the steward carries the symbolic meaning of Mrs. Popov’s inability to decide and act based on her own rational thinking.
When talking about rationality, a particular popular factor is always present to oppose it – emotion. Thus, the next theme that will be discussed in terms of literary symbolic approach is the theme of ‘rationality versus emotion’. The Brute as a play that incorporates the element of ‘battle of the sexes’, like any other play that discusses gender differences, never runs away from the debate of emotion versus rationality since there is the popular cliché of women being ascribed to emotionality while men being ascribed to rationality. In the play, Chekov features this theme through the arguments of the two major characters – Smirnov and Mrs. Popov and of course, the arguments agree with the cliché by incorporating Smirnov (a man) to rationality and Mrs. Popov (a woman) to being emotional. When we look through the perspective of literary symbolic approach, we can see that Chekhov does not only discuss this theme through what is obvious in the lines but also by embedding a deeper meaning in the theme in between the lines, through the use of the symbol; Smirnov breaking the back of the chair.
Regarding the symbol used to symbolize this theme, it is noticeable in the stage directions in line 73 and 143 in the Brute that Smirnov grips the backs of the chairs so strongly that they break (Kirszner & Mandell 1049, 1053). This action of Smirnov, if not viewed from the angle of symbolism, may simply show Smirnov’s strength but of course, we are discussing the play in terms of literary symbolic approach; so, the action of Smirnov breaking the backs of the chairs carries the meaning of ‘emotions can overpower rationality’. Taken from the website www.changingmind.org, “when we get emotional about something, our ability to make rational decisions has a strong tendency to fail” (Emotion and Rationality, para. 1). Thus, the excerpt from the web simply means that when you get more emotional, you get less rational and vice versa. The chair in the play symbolizes Smirnov’s rationality since we know that chairs are generally strong and useful – a clear representation of Smirnov’s character who is strong, useful (since he offers loans to people) and more often used by other (since his loaners do not pay off the debts).On the other hand, his action of gripping the back of the chair obviously symbolizes his emotions since we know emotions are projected through actions. Thus, when his action of gripping the back of the chair (which represents his emotions) breaks the chair (which represents his rationality), the theme of ‘rationality versus emotion’ is made clear through the issue of ‘emotion can overpower rationality’.
In short, the incorporation of literary symbols in the Brute functions to add further layers of meanings in its interrelated themes; the theme of ‘the importance of starting a new life’ is symbolized by the photograph of Mr. Popov and water, the theme of ‘the importance of making the right decisions’ is symbolized by the door and the steward, and the theme of ‘emotion versus rationality’ is symbolized by Smirnov’s action of breaking the backs of the chairs.
Some influences from drama class. Hey, life ain't fun without a little drama right? ;P