Alice Munro and Anton Chekhov

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Alice Munro and Anton Chekhov: A Comparative Analysis
Ms. Sangita L. Patil
Research Scholar,
Shivaji University, Kolhapur (India)

The comparative analysis of the stories of two famous contemporary writers Alice Munro and Anton Chekhov gives an opportunity to follow the development of the genre of short stories in Canadian and in Russian literature. Both are stalwarts of their respective literature. Commenting on the greatness of A. Chekhov, E. B. Tager writes: As far as Chekhov is concerned, it is not enough to say that the nineties ushered in a new stage in his literary career, these were the years when Chekhov’s genius was formed and he came to occupy one of the leading places among the greatest exponents of realism in the world literature of that time. (15)

The proliferation of women writers is a remarkable feature of the Canadian literary scene of the second half of this century. It is interesting to note that most of the women writers have taken up the fiction as their favorite genre. Alice Munro opted for short story genre. In her early period of her literary career, her mastery as a short story writer is amply revealed. In an interview to Graeme Gibson, Munro said “--- I grew up in a rural community, a very traditional community---. The concern of everyone else I know was dealing with life on a very practical level---” (246). Both the writers wrote stories under different circumstances of social life, customs, cultures, traditions, family surroundings, etc. in Ontario and Russia. What is the significance of comparing both the writers? Chekhov comes to help in this regard when he writes in 1888: “It is possible to gather all the best of the creations of artists of all ages and using the scientific method find out the common factors which stipulate their value” (218). With this perspective at the back of mind, let us see Munro and Chekhov. The article writer has no intention of looking into literary links between the two countries. Nor does it necessary to analyse the historical surroundings. The main objective is to make a comparative study of the artistic merits of Munro and Chekhov as short story writers. Alice Munro’s work is often compared with the great short story writers. For example, the American writer Cynthia Ozick wrote, “She is our Chekhov, and is going to outlast most of her contemporaries.”

There are a number of similarities in both these writers. One remarkable similarity reveals from their interviews and writings. Chekhov strives to come closer to the life of ordinary people. He wants in a broader and deeper way to be got acquainted with reality. “If I am a doctor,” wrote Chekhov in 1891, “then I need patients and hospitals, if I am a literary man, then it is necessary for me to live among people” (255). On the other hand, Munro writes about the human condition and relationships seen through the lens of daily life. Munro grew up in Wingham, in Huron County, Ontario, on the banks of the Maitland River. She is able to deal with all sorts of people, and small towns. Another similar point between them is the delineation of women. Chekhov often ponders over the fate of Russian women. Sophia (“Volodya Senior and Volodya Junior”, 1893) Vera (“In the Native Land”, 1897), Nadya (“The Bride”) are some of the representative of Russian society that Chekhov depicts. Munro was fond of reading southern women writers, like Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Ann Porter, Carson McCullers, as these women “could write about the freakish, the marginal” (Jeanne McCulloch, Mona Simpson, 2). Collections such as The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo & Rose (1977), The Love of a Good Woman (1998), Lives of Girls and Women (1971), and Too Much Happiness (2009), depict the plights of girls, young women and unmarried women.

When Munro was compared to Chekhov for certain similarities and differences, Munro expresses her feelings: “I have recently re-read much of Chekhov and it’s a...
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