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Chekhov Role of Religiousity paper

As stated by Anton Chekhov, a self-proclaimed “unbelieving believer” and literary
genius, he paradoxically embraces prophetic visions when saying: “Oh dreams! In one night,
lying with one's eyes shut, one may sometimes live through more than ten years of happiness”
(McVay 72;Delphi Complete Works 951). In this quote, Chekhov shares the power and value
that dreams can provide humans when they experience a mystical encounter when one stumbles
upon “God” perhaps when their “faith is absent” and decide not to replace their spiritual doubts
with “idle sensationalism” but “seeki” ethereal moments through visions. Certainly, Chekhov’s
words depict his religious views as an ambivalent but compassionate and emphatic towards
prophetic dreams and experiences that allow individuals to find happiness with God or a higher
entity. And as a result, Chekhov’s The Black Monk, he tells a story based on his own prophetic
dream that mirrors and unravels the clinical madness of Andrey Kovrin who experiences
mystical dreams and hallucinations. Chekhov cleverly combines supernatural and spiritual
elements within a story of clinical madness to discuss not only the role of dreams in Russian
society, but also the idea of immorality. In my view, the role of mystical dreams in Chekhovian
short story tradition and Russian society represents a vehicle of transformation that both
Chekhov and Korvin undergo in order to move beyond their state in Russian society, from a
perceived ordinary man to someone extraordinary. In the Black Monk, inspired by Chekhov’s
own bibliographical dream, the narrative clearly shows that through prophetic encounters, one
can find true happiness and transcend their lowly social position in society by experiencing
immorality and eternal life – gaining everlasting love and salvation.
Before looking at the text of The Black Monk closely and Chekhov’s inspiration that
leads him to write the narrative, this story would not be possible without the influence and
importance of dreams in Russian society and culture. Certainly, Chekhov writes about prophetic
dreams and hallucinations in a context of clinical madness which can serve as interesting
psychological case studies for scientists, doctors, and psychiatrists to psychoanalyze. But dreams
in Russian culture do not represent a simple artistic device to get “inside the head” of the
characters psyche that many Western literary scholars and psychologists may think. Prophetic
encounters and dreams in Russian culture “reveal otherwise inaccessible areas” of one’s
“consciousness” (Lantz 117). And through having spiritual dreams and encounters, the
information provided can foretell an individual’s future in the form of a premonition or a reality
that can (and most likely) will come true. Russian literary tradition, culture, and individuals,
embrace the power of dreams that can transform their every-day life from an ordinary person
into someone who can achieve something greater than they ever imagined, either transcending
into an immortal or eternal figure, or completely foreseeing a new life in America as my Russian
professor, Olga Partan did or my Latvian grandmother who has prophetic dreams that always
foretell a relative’s death. Russian culture and prophetic experiences allow the common
individual to act as their own soothsayer and fortune teller if they listen and interpret their
dreams closely, allowing the individual to possibly transcend the borders of their own every-day
As Chekhov represents a product of Russian society and culture, it does not surprise me
or other Russian scholars that his own prophetic dream of a black monk influences the writing of
the story to mirror his encounter through Korvin, but the actual dream does influence his own
personal transformation through eternal memory. For instance, scholars know about Chekhov’s
dream through a letter he writes to MP Chekhov, when we recounts Anton Chekhov’s own
experience with the black monk when “he suddenly awakened in horror, some strange force
tossed him on the bed, inside of him something broke off "from the root", he jumped up and for a
long time could not sleep"(Chekhov-lit.ru 2). Chekhov reports this dream about a “black monk”
and that through this mystical dream he could “not calm down for a long time” until he decided
to write about the black monk in his “famous story” (Chekhov-lit.ru 2). In the Black Monk,
Chekhov retells and re-spins a similar mystical encounter that he experiences in a dream as
Korvin first encounters the black monk in a dream in the form of a “legend.” Then, Chekhov
shows subsequent hallucinations to highlight the eternal power and spiritually transformative
experience that Korvin undergoes on both an intrapersonal and mystical level. In my view,
Chekhov’s dream not only influences his writing of the black monk in creating a character who
has a similar prophetic dream as him, but actually represents a premonition of Chekhov’s death
own as well. The story was published in 1893 and every picture of Chekhov since then highlights
his physical deterioration leading up to his death in 1904, while in the same letter he reports
feeling “distracted from exhaustion [and] almost did not sleep at all” (Chekhov-lit.ru 2) which
leads right up to the point where he dreams of the black monk. For a man who claims to have
doubts in believing in God, Chekhov still believes within the power of his own prophetic dreams
that foretell his death, but also awards him eternal memory, transforming his social status in
Russian society.
As a result of Chekhov’s own bibliographical dream, he not only foresees his own death
and deterioration, but he remains an eternal and all-encompassing literary figure, which shows
that mystical dreams can transform an individual. Like Korvin an ordinary man can rise to a state
of immorality within The Black Monk, Chekhov experiences the same after his death in that both
Russian and Western cultures that admire his literary works as pieces of literature that enrich the
soul, even though he never claimed himself as an important moralizing story teller or “God”
when he was alive. The role of prophetic dreams in Chekhov’s life serves as his own vehicle of
transformation from an ordinary doctor and author into a profound story-teller that the modern
world revers, essentially giving him his own immorality. Chekhov, through his mystical dream
with the black monk and writing this story has reached a heightened state of greatness and
eternal life and memory that he gains after his death. Further, when exploring religiosity in the
literary text of The Black Monk the reader sees Chekhov’s dream imprinted within the internal
world of the story, as we take a closer look at the significance of Korvin’s interpersonal and
spiritual transformation. Chekhov and his own character Korvin teach us the true power of a
prophetic dream on Chekhov’s own personal level and now through his character’s interpersonal
and mystical transformations.
In Anton Chekhov’s “The Black Monk,” the reader explores a story of an ordinary
scientist, Andrei Vassilyrich Korvin, who undergoes a personal and mystical transformation
through experiencing ethereal and intense hallucinations of a “black monk.” First, in looking at
Korvin’s mood and interpersonal transformation,, the reader first understands his unhappiness
and room for growth in the very first sentences of the short story when the narrator describes:
“Andrei Vassilyich Korvin” as a “masters of arts” profession who “was overworked” and “his
nerves were upset” (223). Korvin, in this short story represents the idea of a Chekhovian “little
man” who exists in a lowly state in Russian society who consistently remains overlooked and
unappreciated. The narrator then goes on to describe his loneliness and isolation as an ordinary
scientist in his every life-style in only talking to his doctor about leaving the area to “spend the
spring and summer in the country” and to a lady he was fond of named “Tanya Pestsky” (224).
In these first few sentences of the story, the reader automatically understands that the narrator
sets the stage in describing Korvin as an ordinary lonely man as he takes the advice “three weeks
in solitude by himself,” furthering his depressive state. However, in common Chekhovian
tradition, the reader knows that the setting of the story foreshadows the general subject matter of
the narrative, which will discuss Korvin’s feelings of his ordinary life and perhaps his
transformation beyond it, which occurs through religiosity and a mystical experience.
As Korvin first begins his mystical journey through a dream of the black monk, the
reader automatically sees an interpersonal and mood transformation that he undergoes. But
before highlighting this experience, the narrator foreshadows this mood transformation through a
depiction of a beautiful garden scene with “roses lilies, camellias, such tulips of every possible
color” while the “flower beds… [made] yourself [feel] in a kingdom of tender colors,” that
Kovrin fully appreciates (224). This lyrical and sweeping scene of flowers and nature certainly
signifies Korvin’s innocence on a symbolic level in terms of him undergoing a positive personal
and religious transformation. But this nature scene also alludes to the beginning of Kovrin’s
mood change when he experiences a dream of the black monk three pages later where the reader
sees a complete change in his mood from nervous and depressed to “amaze[ed]” and completely
“taken by this legend” that he tells Tanya about him possibly “dreaming of the black monk” and
this legend tells him that “we ought to expect the black monk any day now” (229). Korvin
completely changes his mood and becomes engaged in the legend that he dreams about to the
point where he verbalizes it and “laughs” and “thinks” about the black monk for the whole “day
today,” showing a positive emotional transformation from the beginning of the story. Not only
does this story show the positive aspects of experiencing prophetic dreams that can end up
transforming someone’s outlook on life and happiness, but dreams and hallucinations can also
allow someone to transcend their social status in Russian society, along with a complete spiritual
transformation and belief in immorality that Korvin next experiences.
Besides Korvin’s positive emotional transformation in dreaming of the legend, he also
undergoes a spiritual transformation through upcoming mystical hallucinations that leads him to
eternal life. The reader begins to see this eternal transcendence through his first conversation
with the “black monk” when Korvin has his first hallucination. In this hallucination, the black
monk tells him that the reason why he is having these visions is because he represents “one of
the few who are justly called” and “chosen” by “God to serve the eternal truth,” while delivering
people from “struggle, sin, and suffering” (237-239). In the premonition of this eternal life, he
will have the ability to pursue “true enjoyment” in exercising his genius in having an
“inexhaustible sources” of “knowledge,” (238) completely elevating his status from a nervous
and unhealthy scientist to an extraordinary clairvoyant being who foresees his life in the eternity.
But Korvin throughout the conversation questions him on his “realness” to his internal world
around him and whether he should believe the black monk in him actually representing a chosen
person by God to serve the eternity, representing the Korvin’s struggle in believing his mystical
dream and destined greatness. The black monk then reassures him that his profession as a
scientist does “bear a divine, heavenly imprint” and he should believe that his place in Russians
society is valuable and therefore because of his chosen status he is destined to “give his life” up
for “common good” (237-238). Without a doubt, the black monk’s words not only make Korvin
feel useful, worthy, and more valued than the Russian society/ material world views his
profession and social status. But through this hallucinogenic experience and mystical dream, the
black monk also foreshadows his death when telling him that a “magnificent future [a]waits” for
him in serving a “higher principle”, (239) which gives him everlasting immorality and eternal
life to serve the downtrodden – completely transforming his religiosity and social status.
In the ending of the story, Korvin finally believes that “he was the chosen of God and a
genius” and submits to death in experiencing a massive hemorrhage from his heart, after years of
doubting his destiny of immorality, showing the true transformative power that the dream has
upon his social status and soul. The black monk tells him that “if [he] had believed me then,
when I [black monk] said you were a genius, you would not have spent these two years so sadly
and meagerly.” Chekhov, through the mysticism and the role of the black monk as a transcendent
figure transforms Korvin into a genius, extraordinary man, soothsayer, and a man who envisions
and takes control of his own destiny by giving into death and the eternity to achieve immorality.
Korvin dies in peace and is left with a “blissful smile frozen on his face,” (252) as he starts a new
journey in eternal life, transforming himself both interpersonally and mystically through the
power of prophetic dreams and premonitions. But overall, Korvin represents a relatable ordinary
character who takes a spiritual journey in struggling to believe in his hallucinations and mystical
dreams, and once he does, he transcends his lowly state into a man who will remain eternal and
happy. He shows us that believing in the eternal, dreams, and a higher power can deliever us and
award us salvation – if we are spiritually intelligent enough to seek those dreams, and believe in
them – we will all receive our rightful high standing.
In Russian culture, Anton Chekhov’s bibliographical dream, and The Black Monk, the
role of mystical dreams and prophetic encounters prove highly transformative in terms of one’s
interpersonal and spiritual lives, but also can show the premonition of one’s death, happiness, or
eternal life. However, beyond the relatability of Korvin and the recognition of the “insignificant”
Chekhovian man that seems present in this narrative, the role of mystical dreams in Chekhov’s
narrative tradition goes beyond transcendence. The Black Monk teaches Americans and
Westerners to believe not just in big idealistic dreams, but in every-day miracles. In a discussion
with Professor Partan, it dawned upon me that sometimes our reason and logic in Western
society can block our creativity, imagination, and pathways within our consciousness that allow
us to intuitively interpret our own lives beyond the boundaries of our material world. Maybe if
the American world read Chekhov’s The Black Monk right now, we would all be able to
transcend our logical world that seems to only anger and disappoint us, rather than denying and
writing off mystical experiences, hallucinations, and prophetic encounters as “mental illness.”
Truly, if we only believed in the power of our dreams and our intuitive self – we could inform
and foresee our next steps and decisions in the world.
Works Cited:
Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich, et al. Selected stories of Anton Chekhov. Modern Library, 2000.
Chekhov, Anton. “Delphi Complete Works of Anton Chekhov (Illustrated ...” Amazon (Ebook),
Lantz, Kenneth A. The Dostoevsky Encyclopedia: Dreams and the Unconscious.
Greenwood Press, 2004
McVay, Gordon . “Review: Anton Chekhov: The Unbelieving Believer.” The Slavonic and East
European Review, vol. 80, no. 1, 1AD, pp. 63–104. JSTOR,
“Notes on Black Monk.” Chekhov-Lit.ru, chehov-lit.ru/chehov/text/chernyj-monah/chernyjmonah-prim.htm.
Partial quote from Anton Chekhov in a famous letter to editor, publisher, and journalist V.S. Mirolyubov, Anton
Chekhov explains himself as an “unbelieving believer” when he explains: “one ought to believe in God, but, if faith
is absent, one shouldn’t replace it by idle sensationalism, but instead seek, and seek, seek all by oneself, all alone
with one’s conscience” (McVay 75.)