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Two authors of different periods wrote on the same subject. Each approaches the idea from a different direction. Anton Chekhov looks at the aspects of light as a sign of hope. Franz Kafka examines the despair that comes from darkness in humans. Despite their different approaches, both address the aspects of the human psyche that deal with good and evil. Light to Chekhov displays hope and the good in man. Kafka sees darkness as the example of human evil and despair.
The use of light in The Cherry Orchard and The Metamorphosis shows the antithetical elements of good and evil and the authors’ attempts to show the human condition of the conflicting elements hope and despair. Kafka’s mind dealt in the darkness, and Chekhov’s mind dealt in light. According to human mythology, light and dark represent good and evil. Good things happen under the light; in the shadows, the human psyche does not feel comfortable. The aristocrats in Cherry Orchard exist in a changing society, with the new ways crumbling away their positions.
Madame Ranevskaya, one of the main aristocrats, says upon her return from Europe, “All white, all white! Oh, my cherry orchard! After the dark and stormy autumn and the winter frosts you are young again and full of happiness” (Chekhov 28). This observation emphasizes the good that humans associate with light. The aristocrats distribute warmth and love, while coldness describes the capitalist feeling. The cherry orchard symbolizes the aristocrats, and the setting by Chekhov in the spring shows the power of good. The aristocrats with their caring fight in a symbolic battle against the capitalists who have no personal feelings in Chekhov’s play.
Chekhov uses this to show that good, even when under attack, will prevail. Despite his siding with the aristocracy, Chekhov shows clean cut lines of black and white do not exist, but instead a shade of gray exists. Trofimov, a perpetual student and philosopher, says, “Your cherry orchard is a terrible thing. Possessing living souls has corrupted all of you, those who lived before and since… the old bark on the trees glow dimly” (Chekhov 50). This remark of the socialist antagonist shows that even the warmth of the aristocracy has come from suffering.
In reverse, cold capitalism, allows a man to become free and gain power. Without his contrasts and comparisons, the book becomes propaganda. By addressing the overlap of the pleasant as well as bad aspects of each, Chekhov shows that the human psyche has no clearly definable boundaries, and good as well as evil emerge as possible results of a man’s actions. Chekhov, by addressing the light opens up views and insights into good and evil. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka depicts the good and evil inherent in man also. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, turns into a giant bug after unsettling dreams.
He slowly retreats from his old generous self as a human to become a creature that his own family reviles. Kafka writes, “The light of the electric street-lamps lay in pallid streaks on the ceiling and on the upper parts of the furniture, but underneath, where Gregor was, it was dark” (Kafka 21). This quote shows that while Gregor can achieve a better level and become a human again, he chooses to remain as a bug, by hiding from the cleansing he must go through. Throughout the novel, Gregor avoids the light and light-colored objects.
When his sister brings him milk, Gregor tries it, but “he turned away from the bowl almost with repulsion” (Kafka 21). Kafka uses this technique of hiding to show that humans all have the potential for good in them, but often hide from the chance. Gregor does not wish to fight to obtain his humanity. He would rather hide from his own potential by remaining something all men despise. Gregor finds being an outcast better than the possibility of being the only good man. None of his family remains loyal to him, but instead his father abuses him without care, and his whole family conspires to eliminate the problem.
Gregor’s father attacks him, and eventually hurt him, the apple thrown hard and “literally forcing its way into Gregor’s back” (Kafka 39). Kafka uses this falling away in the family to show that even though they try to love Gregor, they allow their evil natures to take over. Kafka uses Gregor’s hiding from the light to show that the human psyche includes good and bad sides. With this method, Kafka shows the mind contains multiple parts, each of which can influence the whole. According to Jung, the human psyche comprises of these parts. The brains alter ego, or shadow, tries to dominate with acts that society rarely sees.
This escape into the open world results in crime and hate. Jung says that the part of man with bad motives lies there, and the drive to do good exists in the self. Gregor, after his transformation and after the attacks, gains the right to an open door to watch the family. Despite this opportunity, “Gregor found it very easy to give up the open door… when it was opened he had not taken advantage of it, but instead… had lain in the darkest corner of the room” (Kafka 46). His reluctance to join in a crude family circle represents his ultimate rejection of his potential for good.
Kafka applies his reluctance to show that man will naturally reject good for the simpler path of evil. By not becoming a problem and dealing with his position even within his family, Gregor denies his humanity and accepts to living in the shadows of his mind. These shadows, though normally hidden behind the persona, allow evil to escape from under the tight blocks in the mind. Gregor, when he becomes a bug, loses hope. The aristocrats in Chekhov’s play despair when they lose control. Both Gregor and Madame Ranevskaya cannot continue to hope, because darkness covers their mind.
Madame Ranevskaya’s friend and buyer Lopakhin says, “Last year at this time snow was falling already, if you remember; but now it’s fine and sunny” (Chekhov 81). Before Lopakhin buys the estate, the aristocrats do not have hope. When snow covers the land, humans despair, because they remain in their houses without escape, with the feeling of existing in a trap. Humans find hope with release into wide-open spaces, where their expansion can grow without impedance. When restrictions come into place, the mind loses hope. In Chekhov’s play, at the end, the weather turns fine and so Madame Ranevskaya feels more hope.
Anya, her daughter, shows both her own and her mother’s beliefs in saying “Very, very happy. A new life is beginning” (Chekhov 77). When she says this, the aristocrats are preparing to leave their estate. The confinement at the estate ends, so Madame Ranevskaya and her family have sunlight illuminating them, and they hope for a better future. Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s protagonist, remains a problem to his family. His presence tries their patience, and by his inability to help, Gregor puts a greater load on his sister and parents. Gregor, when he does try to participate in a family activity, manages to drive away the boarders who rent a room.
Eventually Gregor realizes that he hurts his family by staying. Gregor knows that he cannot be of service, so instead of remaining in his room by his own will; he can leave his body to go to another plane of thought and knowledge. Kafka writes “His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, firmer than his sister’s… He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light” (Kafka 54). When his need to live cancels out by his thought for others, Gregor joins humanity again, and can have hope for himself.
Gregor and Madame Ranevskaya both begin in their respective works as characters that have no reason for hope. Gregor becomes a bug, and because of debt, Madame Ranevskaya’s estate will go to the auction block. These situations offer little choice of resolving themselves, and the protagonists will correct them differently. The more despair grows in them, and the closer they come to their final reckoning, the less the two feel able to save themselves. In each work, the author has a different climax, at which the characters recognize their position and turn to something other than the previous life.
Madame Ranevskaya moves away from her family wealth, and Gregor stops living as a human in a bug. Both character have the opportunity to gain hope. For Gregor and Madame Ranevskaya, light symbolizes what they can have, and darkness symbolizes their problems. However, where light exists there cannot also survive darkness, so hope cannot coexist with despair. By changing to a brighter outlook, the two characters show the goodness in man, and the difference from their previous state shows the darkness in man. Kafka and Chekhov both use the technique of antithetical elements to show the human condition of conflict and change.