Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Working Class

first edition of Chekhov's Three Sisters
“Man must toil. He must work...” is the famous refrain from Chekhov’s Three Sisters.It’s the plaintive cry of the outlier, the occupant of the landowning class in a hick burg whose dreams of a better life and more cosmopolitan existence have been thwarted (“to Moscow” is another the sisters' haunting cries). Deconstructing the play, "work" can turn out to be prescient, even in a way that Chekhov may not consciously have intended—as it augurs the revolutionary sentiments that were in the air and which Tom Stoppard, for instance, would later channel in The Coast of UtopiaThe working class in this way of thinking becomes a misnomer since it refers to an activity that people in all strata of society require. Still work is a curious device. Workaholism is frequently cited as another form of addiction. “Arbeit Macht Frei” was the infamous sign over the gates of Auschwitz. Yet work itself may be seen in a more spiritual way, if we take it to mean, “work at life.” It’s one thing to dream about uncharted waters, but it’s also axiomatic that that which has yet to come into being generally trumps the tried and true, the knowable. You don’t work at dreaming. You in fact daydream when you don’t want to work. Perhaps what Chekhov had in mind was something positive. With their hopes crushed Olga, Irina and Masha would have to deal with what was on their plates. Their daily grinds would become the gris for their mills. Call it capituation or acceptance, but out of this they'd ultimately discover the happiness lying at their footsteps. 

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