43 pages 1 hour read

Anton Chekhov

The Duel

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1891

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Character Analysis


Ivan Andreitch Laevsky is the center of the novella’s moral crisis, motivating the ethical-philosophical discussion as well as all the key plot points, including the tension at the picnic, the party and ultimately the duel. His struggle is one of personal moral responsibility. It is an inward struggle insofar as Laevsky himself is aware of his role in the misfortunes of others, but he nevertheless pushes away these intuitions whenever they arise. The ways he shirks responsibility are myriad; he speaks of his generation, his century, his class. Laevsky’s habit of “[gazing] attentively at the pink palms of his hands, [biting] his nails and [pinching] his cuffs” shows the split in consciousness that defines him (31). He is always preoccupied as if by a notion—his responsibility—that he cannot fully grasp. This notion, which is finally learnt in an evening verging on conversion, climaxes in the realization that he has never helped anything to grow but only destroyed. Growth—and particularly the way it is described naturalistically in this evening scene as being akin to growing a tree—suggests Laevsky’s ethical reawakening is also a re-entry into the organic world in which the key principle is not fantasy but life.

Laevsky’s self-deception takes several common cultural forms, the first being

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