Chekhov’s Use of Futliarnost to Develop Yakov and the
Importance of Morals in “Rothschild’s Fiddle”
Futliarnost, a Russian literature theme which is often present in Anton Chekhov’s short stories, is when a character is encased in a situation and can not escape. In “Rothschild’s Fiddle”, Yakov is entrapped in an almost trance like state, that is brought about by loss and remorse in his life. “Is Yakov ever released from this state, through Marfa’s death, or any other instance and does Chekhov intend for the reader to see one single moral in this story?” Chekhov uses irony and ambiguity to develop Yakov “Rothschild’s Fiddle” into a deeper character as well. Chekhov uses one particular irony which is central to this short story. Yakov is evidently depressed for much if not all of his life, as he is always worrying about his income and his wasted opportunities in life. But ironically he is arguably more depressed and miserable after he realizes how meaningless his whole life has been. It is at this point when he is finally more alive than he has ever been, but because he is looking back on his life he wants to die more than ever. Yakov “reflected that death would be nothing but a benefit; he would not have to eat or drink, or pay taxes or offend people, and, as a man lies in his grave not for one year but for hundreds and thousands, if one reckoned it up the gain would be enormous. A man's life meant loss: death meant gain.” With this realization it can be said that Yakov only becomes more depressed. This is sad to see because as a reader we finally see someone that finally has much about life figured out, but it is in his last moments, and he is more miserable than ever. Chekhov Weeks 2
uses this passage to help develop the sense of futliarnost even more than it already is. Yakov was already trapped in a state of depression, knowingly or not, and when he finally realizes this at the end of his life he only becomes more depressed. The change that comes about because of this further misery is negative, as Yakov finally realizes many, if not all, of his faults in life yet he is at a point in his life where he can no longer change his ways enough to make up for all of his past mistakes. This is the point in which a moral can be deduced. Perhaps a moral of live life so that you have no regrets would be appropriate. But we must ask ourselves if Chekhov meant for a moral to be brought away from “Rothschild’s Fiddle”. Based on the writing style it is safe to assume that a moral is applicable. Chekhov gives “Rothschild’s Fiddle” folk like qualities which suggest there is a moral. Although this moral is very cliched, it certainly applies to Yakov. It is not saying live life with no regrets, rather live life so that you will have no regrets. If Yakov had treated Marfa better and not yelled at her and not caused her pain he likely would not have been as miserable in the end as he was. But it is also worth noting that some of the most beautiful music came about because of one mans suffering, and made many other lives better. Chekhov is intentionally ambiguous here, as he likely does not mean to only teach one lesson through this story. There are many lessons that can be taken away, and this is one of the beautiful things about Chekhov’s writings, especially “Rothschild’s Fiddle”. Etymologically, the word ‘ambiguity’ means being able to push something from both ends [ambo-ago] and also, figuratively, to think about something in two different and even irreconcilable ways (Pazzagli 1505). Chekhov has many ambiguities in his writings in order to leave much interpretation up to the reader. The reader must decide whether to accept both meanings of a statement or choose between the two. Based on which approach a reader uses, the Weeks 3
same passage can have completely different meanings. One example of this ambiguity comes when Marfa dies. Chekhov writes that her face turned “rosy...