Uncle Vanya Themes

Uncle Vanya Themes

Existential Stagnation

The potential for significant changes in the lives of these characters is on display throughout the narrative and reaches its climax with the two shots Uncle Vanya takes at the pompous professorial epicenter of his misery. The two shots miss the professor and life at the end of the play is pretty much consistent with how it is portrayed at the beginning. The lesson being that nearly everyone is doomed to lose the fight against the entropy of comfort. Life becomes stagnant and the mere desire for change is simply not enough to stem the tide.

Perception and Delusion

The professor is fairly unremarkable in reality: neither the great intellect he believes himself to be nor the supreme architect of pretension that Vanya accuses him of being. It is in between these gaps of extremities that the play examines the themes of perception and delusion. The professor may not be entirely deluded; he may genuinely believe in his greatness. He certainly acts it and yet the evidence would certainly seem to be prove otherwise. Vanya sums up this contradiction succinctly: “When people have no real life, they live on their illusions.”

The Corrosive Effects of Time

A recurring theme of Chekhov is on full display in this play: how time seems to pass without notice until one day you wake up and see how much of it was wasted. Sonia has lost half a dozen years of her life wrapped in an unrequited love for Astrov. Vanya looks back with regret on having a chance to marry Elena and letting it slip by as well as wasting a quarter century in the service of the underserving professor while his mother has reached the half-century mark scribbling into notebooks with a look of complete vacancy written on her face. In the end, stagnation, delusion and the wasting of time all serve to unify as a thematic portrait of comprehensively thwarted potential and ambition.

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