27 pages 54 minutes read

Anton Chekhov


Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1898

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The Pursuit of Happiness and the Meaning of Life

A recurring theme throughout Chekhov’s The Little Trilogy series is the pursuit of happiness. While the other two stories in the series focus on unhappy love, “Gooseberries” questions the definition of happiness and its relationship to the meaning of life.

The theme is initially tied to Nicholai’s quest of his personal fulfillment. He dreams of owning land that contains a “farmhouse, cottage, vegetable garden and gooseberry bush” (Paragraph 26). His definition of happiness is purely materialistic and is rooted in the social expectations of late 19th-century Russian society. He marries a rich widow for her money and sacrifices her life to pay his way toward his goal. Eventually, Nicholai realizes his dream and is content with his life. However, his happiness ultimately raises existential questions about the purpose and significance of his endeavors.

First, his pursuit of happiness comes at a cost for both him and those around him. His marriage, based merely on financial considerations, hints at his moral blemish. He has no regret that his wife “pined away in her new life, and in three years or so gave up her soul to God” (Paragraph 27). In other words, the illusion of happiness corrupts his morality and turns him into a mindless beast, “as fat as a pig” (Paragraph 30).