27 pages 54 minutes read

Anton Chekhov


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1898

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Symbols & Motifs


Chekhov skillfully portrays the illusory nature of happiness in the central metaphor, gooseberries. Despite being a seemingly natural symbol, gooseberries originate in newspaper advertisements for land and hence embody materialism and social conventions. In other words, Nicholai purchases gooseberries not for his love of them but for the status they represent in his adherence to social expectations. Therefore, those gooseberries may taste “good” to him, but, as Ivan notes, they actually taste “hard and sour” (Paragraph 41). Their differing sense of taste suggests that materialism and social expectations mask one’s authentic self, senses, and emotions.


Chekhov is known for his use of climatic scenes to establish the mood in his stories. “Gooseberries” open with a sky “overcast with clouds” (Paragraph 1). The threat of rain suggests a sense of instability and foreshadows a potential change. In addition, rain becomes a test of social conventions. Whereas the more conservative Bourkin seeks shelter immediately, Ivan plunges into the pool, enjoying the water despite the bad weather. At the end of the story, the sleepless Bourkin listens to the rain beating his window. Rain here also signals potential social change, which the