Enemies – Anton Chekhov – Character Study

Enemies by Anton Chekhov is a story that revolves around grief, need, and up to a point, communication.  The tension in the story is due to two forces pulling on the doctor, Kirilov.  First, his six-year-old son has just died, and he and his wife are in a heightened state of anguish and shock.  The second force pulling at the doctor is that of a stranger, Abogin, who has come calling at just that moment, begging for the doctor to come and treat his dying wife.

What is Kirilov to do?  Does he abandon his wife and the body of their son?  Does he stay with them and leave someone else to possibly die?  This dilemma pushes the story for the first few pages as Kirilov wanders about his home in pain and confusion.  Meanwhile, Abogin, who is quite a contrast to Kirilov, tries to convince him with entreaties toward Kirilov’s humanity.  All of this falls flat for Kirilov.  He doesn’t feel anything.  He doesn’t care for Abogin’s language.  Instead, Kirilov, softens when Abogin becomes overwhelmed with his own sense of loss.

Abogin’s voice quivered with emotion; that quiver and his tone were far more persuasive than his words. Abogin was sincere, but it was remarkable that whatever he said his words sounded stilted, soulless, and inappropriately flowery, and even seemed an outrage on the atmosphere of the doctor’s home and on the woman who was somewhere dying. He felt this himself, and so, afraid of not being understood, did his utmost to put softness and tenderness into his voice so that the sincerity of his tone might prevail if his words did not. As a rule, however fine and deep a phrase may be, it only affects the indifferent, and cannot fully satisfy those who are happy or unhappy; that is why dumbness is most often the highest expression of happiness or unhappiness; lovers understand each other better when they are silent, and a fervent, passionate speech delivered by the grave only touches outsiders, while to the widow and children of the dead man it seems cold and trivial.

The story hinges around this paragraph.  Kirilov sees something familiar in Abogin, and gives in.  He’ll leave his wife, alone, with their deceased boy.

As the story progresses, not all is at it seems.  Abogin has been deceived by his wife, and Kirilov is enraged. Let’s turn back to the title of the story.  Enemies.  This evening is the moment Abogin becomes Kirilov’s enemy.  On the last page, we are left with Kirilov returning back to his house in a carriage.

All the way home the doctor thought not of his wife, nor of his Andrey, but of Abogin and the people in the house he had just left. His thoughts were unjust and inhumanly cruel. He condemned Abogin and his wife and Paptchinsky and all who lived in rosy, subdued light among sweet perfumes, and all the way home he hated and despised them till his head ached. And a firm conviction concerning those people took shape in his mind.
Time will pass and Kirilov’s sorrow will pass, but that conviction, unjust and unworthy of the human heart, will not pass, but will remain in the doctor’s mind to the grave.

Not only has Abogin become an enemy, but so have all of those like him.

What works well in this story is Chekhov’s ability to communicate loss, and how he contrasts the two men.  Kirilov’s dislike for the Abogin’s of the world has been simmering within him, and on this night it’s pushed over the edge.  Also, the moment Chekhov has chosen is loaded with drama.  Even if there weren’t topped off with deceit, it would be an overly charged incident.  Besides what I’ve said already, “Enemies” is a moving character study.  There’s not much action, and the story draws its strength from the inner workings of Kirilov, and his clouded interactions with Abogin.

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