English : First Flight
Chapter 9 The Proposal
-by Anton Chekov
“The Proposal” written by Anton Chekov, a famous Russian playwright, is a highly humorous play which satirises marriages of convenience that are solemnized without any feeling of love or affection between the partners. The play, with three quarrelsome characters, is replete with comic situations that generate a lot of humour.
“The Proposal” is a humorous play where a thirty-five year old bachelor, Ivan Lomov, comes to his neighbour, Stepan Chubukov, to propose to his twenty-five year old daughter, Natalya Stepanovna.
Both Lomov and Natalya are desperate to get married. Though Lomov doesn’t consider Natalya to be an ideal match for him, yet knowing his own limitations, he decides to take this step. Not only is Natalya fairly good looking and well-educated, she is an excellent house-keeper too. As far as Lomov is concerned, in the first place he is at a critical age of thirty-five years, secondly his nervousness, lack of confidence and fragile health leave himwithno option butto propose Natalya. Natalya, on the other hand, is more than eager to be proposed to by someone.
When Lomov tells Chubukov, Natalya’s father, about the purpose of his visit, the old man who feels it a burden to be the father of a grown up daughter, gets very excited. He is absolutely certain that Natalya would readily give her consent for the proposal. He rushes in to call out Natalya. However, when Natalya comes to the drawing room, she is surprised to see Lomov in a formal dress as she doesn’t know the purpose of his visit. After exchanging a few pleasantries, when Lomov is just on the verge of proposing to the girl, there crops up a controversy between the two of them regarding the ownership of a piece of land ‘Oxen Meadows’.
Both Lomov and Natalya claim to be the real owner of this property. Initially both of them claim it very politely. However, soon the argument becomes very heated and they start shouting at each other. Lomov insists that the documents prove that Oxen Meadows belong to him, although at one time they were a subject of dispute. Natalya counters this claim by telling that their land extended till Burnt Marsh, which meant that the Oxen Meadows were theirs. In the meantime, Chubukov also makes his entry and he joins the two in the argument.
After a lot of accusations and mudslinging at each other’s family, the flared up Lomov becomes unwell and his heart starts palpitating dangerously. He leaves the father and daughter in a fit of temper.
Soon after he leaves, Natalya gets to know from her father that he had come to propose to her. Instantly she creates a scene. In hysterics, she tells her father to get back Lomov immediately. Both the father and the daughter accuse each other of driving Lomov out. However, the father runs after Lomov and gets him back.
This time Natalya is very sweet to Lomov but she doesn’t know how to make him propose to her. Unfortunately, there is yet another argument between the two before the proposal is made. This time they start quarrelling over the superiority of their respective dogs.
Natalya finds faults with Lomov’s dog ‘Guess’, whereas Lomov feels that ‘Guess’ is a far better dog than the Chubukovs’ ‘Squeezer’. Soon both of them flare up once again and Chubukov also joins them. They abuse and accuse each other repeatedly. Lomov, too frail to continue the argument, falls into a chair exhausted!
Natalya, taking the unconscious man to be dead, starts wailing. Chubukov is thoroughly unnerved, but the moment he realises that Lomov is not dead, with all his presence of mind, he puts Lomov’s hand into his daughter’s hand and gives consent for the wedding on Natalya’s behalf. He gives his blessings and makes them kiss each other. He rushes to get the entire drama through so that the weight of marrying Natalya is off his shoulder. However, though the proposal matures, Lomov and Natalya still continue to argue with each other about the superiority of their dogs.
When the curtain drops, the reader is left guessing about the fate of this couple after the two get married.
“The Proposal” is a play in which Lomov, a thirty-five year old bachelor, apprehensive of never getting a bride of his choice, comes to propose to Natalya – his next door neighbour. Natalya too, at the age of twenty-five, is more than eager to be proposed to by someone. However, the first attempt to make a formal proposal fails miserably and so is the fate of the second attempt. Despite these failures, the proposal is forcibly turned into a marriage by the intervention of the girl’s father Chubukov. The title “The Proposal” therefore clearly lays out the content of the play – the proposal by Lomov to Natalya.
The theme of the farcical play “The Proposal” is the fate of marriages that are solemnised with a deceitful intent on the part of both partners. In such marriages of convenience, love always takes a backseat. An ideal marriage is a union of two hearts as well as families; but in “The Proposal” it is neither the union of two loving hearts, nor the union of two families. At the thematic level, the author aims at condemning such marriages and artistically hints at his own concept of an ideal marriage that is the result of true and selfless love.
“The Proposal” is a farce and it may be defined as a funny play for the theatre, based on ridiculous situations and events. Obviously, such a play is not supposed to be giving any message as such. However, a masterly playwright like Chekhov, will not write anything just for the sake of it, even if it happens to be a farce. Thus, “TheProposal” indirectly presents the author’s reflection on how not to commence one’s married life. Marriage is a solemn bond between two persons which must be based on mutual respect and love. Thus, we should not spoil the sacred relationship of marriage by quarrelling and by being mean and selfish. Marriage is pious and there must be a perfect accord between the partners who should be free from all prejudice and selfishness. Short temper, rage, intolerance, vain pride and unnecessary arguments ruin relationships. So, these should be controlled and kept under check.
The one act play, “The Proposal” is a farce. The basic qualities of a farce are ‘the ridiculous and unlikely situations’ and absurdity. One finds them in abundance in this play. As Lomov enters Chubukov’s drawing room, the latter’s suspicions about his visit make a comical reading. The pretence of love and affection on the partof Chubukov is also amusing. Initially both Lomov and Chubukov flatter each other by singing praises about each other’s family, but later on accuse not only each other, but also their ancestors. Again, the reasons put forward by Lomov to himself, for proposing to Natalya really make a funny reading. The assertions of Lomov and Natalya regarding the ownership of ‘Oxen Meadows’ and the quarrel that ensues makes the situation ridiculous.
A variety of ailments that Lomov is afflicted with and his nervousness make him a very comical character. The hysterics of Natalya, when she learns that Lomov intended to propose to her, but that she had missed the opportunity, provoke much laughter. Again, the reader can’t help laughing at the folly of the three, when after Lomov’s return, they once again start quarrelling, this time over the claim of the relative superiority of their respective hunting dogs. The all important issue of the marriage proposal once again recedes into the background.
In short, the events, situations and the odd behaviour of the characters all through the play, and the manner in which the proposal is finally presumed to have been made and accepted, make the play absolutely farcical. Above all, exaggeration and Chubukov’s repetitive use of “and so on” also add to the humour in the play.
Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov
- Lomov, a suspicious land owner is a well-to-do unmarried man in his mid-thirties. He suffers from a variety of ailments. He starts trembling when he is nervous. He also suffers from palpitations, is easily excitable and always gets awfully upset. Atsucha moment his lips tremble and there’s a twitch in his right eyebrow.
- Lomov has been looking for a perfect marriage partner for himself but has failed to meet an ideal match. He does not consider Natalya to be ideally suited for him, but being practical, he takes into account his advancing age and decides to make a compromise by proposing to her.
- However, he lacks self-confidence and keeps beating about the bush instead of stating matters clearly.
- Lomov is quarrelsome by nature and starts arguing about the rightful ownership of the “Oxen Meadows”, whereas his actual purpose was to propose to Natalya. He is a comical character who has not learnt the wise lesson of proper discrimination between the relative importance of different situations. Instead of concentrating on the topic of proposing romantically, he keeps on foolishly asserting his claim over “Oxen Meadows”. He is childish, unintelligent and foolish who stubbornly keeps on arguing with the lady, who seems to be the only person he could marry. He does not even hesitate to hurl abuses at the Chubukov family when he gets into heated arguments over Oxen Meadows and the dogs. His stubbornness and immaturity almost ruin the sole prospect of his marriage.
- Natalya is the twenty-five year old daughter of Stepan Chubukov, a landowner. She is a garrulous, quarrelsome and money-minded woman,who is so possessive by nature that inno case, is she prepared to leave her claim, rightful or otherwise, over “Oxen Meadows”, a stretch of land.
- She has reached a stage where she is so desperate to get married that she would accept anybody as her husband. According to her father, Chubukov, “She is a lovesick cat.” Butwhen it comes to quarrelling, in a fit of agitation, she forgets that her foolish behaviour could project her as a bad-tempered woman and jeopardise her prospect of matrimony. Lomov considers her to be an excellent housekeeper, not bad looking and well-educated.
- Natalya’s basic aim is to tie the nuptial knot, even if her husband is an ailing and stubborn person like Lomov. However, egoist, as she is, she picks up a quarrel once again with Lomov regarding the superiority of her dog. Squeezer, forgetting all about the proposal which needed to be given the up priority. This shows that Natalya is foolish, short-sighted and immature. Her behaviour is childish and she treats Lomov really bad. But when there is a threat to her matrimonial prospect, she pretends to swoon. Thus, Natalya is ever inch a comical character.
Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov
- Chubukov is a wealthy, but greedy person past his prime and father of an unmarried daughter. He is a stupid and quarrelsome individual, who is rather unfriendly towards Lomov, his immediate neighbour.
- Chubukov is adept in the art of pretence. On seeing Lomov at his door, he pretends to be happy and asks him the reason of his visit. He conjectures to himself that Lomov has come to borrow money but – asserts he “shan’t give him any.” However, he is a hypocrite and feigns to be very cordial and asks him, “What is it, beauty.”
- As a father, Chubukov feels it his responsibility to marry off his daughter. He cares for her but many times, in the heat of the moment, he overlooks her interestand behaves in an immature manner. He hurls abuses at the man who has come to propose to his daughter, Natalya.
- Chubukov is a short-tempered fellow. Natalya’s hysteria on learning that Lomov had come to propose to her but has gone away annoyed, makes him lose his cool, and out of sheer anger he curses himself and all fathers of grown-up daughters. However, towards the end of the play, when a bit of sanity prevails over him, he hurriedly makes the proposal materialize without the proper consent of Lomov and Natalya.
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