For example, in the story "Typhus" a young soldier becomes ill on a home bound train. Chekhov captures beautifully the disorder of a fevered nightmare as we follow him, stop after stop, through his sufferings, feel his longing for his mother, sister, and the comforts of home, follow him in a daze into his home where he collapses, and watch as he battles the disease. Finally he wakes, healthy and happy, only to learn that his dear sister, who he has been pinning for throughout his illness, has died in nursing him. In "Ward No. 6" a doctor finds himself as mercilessly put into a mental ward as he has mercilessly consigned inmates there before him. In "The Dependents" an old man must sacrifice his faithful dog and horse or go hungry himself. In "A Dead Body", the living watch over an unknown corpse. This story is perhaps the best parallel to Chekhov's overall theme - the individual is subservient to life which will continue on incessantly, never stopping to consider our individual triumphs and hardships.
The water was running, he knew not where or why, just as it did in May. In May it had flowed into the great river, from the great river into the sea; then it had risen in vapour, turned into rain, and perhaps the very same water was running now before Ryabovitch's eyes again.... What for? Why?Here is the essence of Chekhov: life is glorious, amazing, capable of lifting humans into ecstasy, but still meaningless. Joy is checked with sorrow, which can be counted on to dominate. The doctor from "Ward No. 6" declares:
And the whole world, the whole of life, seemed to Ryabovitch an unintelligible, aimless jest.... And turning his eyes from the water and looking at the sky, he remembered again how fate in the person of an unknown woman had by chance caressed him, he remembered his summer dreams and fancies, and his life struck him as extraordinarily meager, poverty-stricken, and colourless....
Prisons and madhouses there will not be, and truth, as you have just expressed it, will triumph; but the reality of things, you know, will not change, the laws of nature will remain the same. People will suffer pain, grow old, and die just as they do now. However magnificent a dawn lighted up your life, you would yet in the end be nailed up in a coffin and thrown into a hole.Nevertheless, though Chekhov promises pain, overall he embraces life. For, though our actions might be futile, what else have we to do? He recommends making the best of it which, though the message might be conveyed in a rather dark manner, is one I can easily wrap my head around. These stories are beautiful explorations of humanity which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Russian literature and/or the short story form. I only wish I was at leisure to review the collection in far greater detail.