Short Story #126: Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov

Title:  Gooseberries

Author:  Anton Chekhov


Gooseberry: Image Source:
In case you were wondering
what a gooseberry was.
I certainly was.
Ivan Ivanovitch travels with a friend in the countryside to visit another.  Upon arrival, they clean up and settle in.  It's at this point that Ivan picks up on a story he mentioned at the start that he's been meaning to tell his companion about his younger brother.  His younger brother had been fixated on being wealthy his whole life and in particular, having an estate in which he could plant gooseberries.  As the brother moved through his life, he saves and thinks of almost nothing else.  He marries a women with some wealthy and with not actual care for her but just as a means to the end.  She dies and he inherits the wealth.  Over the next five years, he looks for an estate to purchase and buys one through a broker that does not actually have the things he wants, especially the desired gooseberries.  But he buys the bushes and plants them about his estate.  The brother eventually invites Ivan out to his estate.  As Ivan explores the estate, which is crammed between a crematorium and a brickyard.  In fact, the estate is in dreadful condition, but somehow, the brother presents himself as content.  At dinner, the sought-after gooseberries are served and Ivan observes they are sour and unripe, yet his brother eats them with abandon claiming they are delicious.  Ivan explains to his friends that his brother had sought these things his whole life and was purposely blinding himself to the failure of actually attaining what the thing (gooseberries) actually represented; happiness.  He then implores his host, Pavel to not be content with seeking happiness but to seek out and do good.  


Ivan's speech is largely the cornerstone of this story: "don't be calm and contented, don't let yourself be put to sleep! While you are young, strong, confident, be not weary in well-doing! There is no happiness, and there ought not to be; but if there is a meaning and an object in life, that meaning and object is not our happiness, but something greater and more rational. Do good!"  It speaks to the sense of loss that seems to occur when our goals are tangible items such as gooseberries and material wealth.  Chekhov hits also upon the idea of how we fool ourselves into believing something is great because of the amount of time and energy we have spent on something.  He calls upon Pushkin to further elaborate on the sunk cost fallacy: 
"'Dearer to us the falsehood that exalts 
Than hosts of baser truths.'"

This was definitely a story that I benefited from talking about with others as I don't know I would have enjoyed and appreciated it as much the first time around.  

Short Story #126 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  4/24/2014
Source:  This short story was found in a collection of Chekhov's works on the Gutenberg Proejct.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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