This node is about Uncle Vanya, a play in four acts written by Russian author Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.

Reading Chekhov's Uncle Vanya is like immersing yourself into a steaming vat of poisonous vapours. The characters seem to breathe in their own vapours of discontentment and create an atmosphere that chokes everybody. With several characters accusing the others of being responsible for their unhappiness, they tend to irritate each other with their complaints.

The title character, Uncle Vanya, or Ivan Petrovich Voinitsky is incredibly bitter about his own life and jealous of his brother in law, Professor Serebriakov. Having paid for his brother in law's education by sending him profits from his farming work, Vanya is stricken by misfortune. His sister that married Serebriakov dies and the professor marries Elena Andreevna, a young woman that Vanya himself was in love with. His love for her and desire to be with her do not weaken over the years. Therefore, Ivan Ivanovich follows her around, professing his love, and trying to talk her into an affair all the while cursing his former brother in law, who has had the luck of being financially supported by him and blessed with a beautiful, young woman that he had wanted.

Elena Andreevna meanwhile feels herself cursed by her marriage to Serebriakov. The man had become unbearable and impossible to be around. Resentful of being unable to be in the company of intellectual people, he takes his anger out on her and accuses her of not loving him anymore and desiring to cheat on him with a younger man. His accusations, though unfounded, do reflect Elena's secret yearnings. Disappointed with him, Elena wishes that she could be in the arms of a companion who is loving, charming, warm, and vigorous instead of being tied down to an ill elderly man in constant need of care and who, worst of all, is bitter and whiny. The play reveals Elena to be in a neurotic, torn state of mind; she is aware of her desire for a younger man and is still somewhat flirts with and entices other men. However, she is determined to press down her impulses and remain faithful to her husband. Her resolution doesn't bring her any peace of mind and she often grieves over being chained against her own desires to an undesirable, repulsive man.

The disappointment with life experienced by Doctor Astrov is more metaphysical, as he tends to think over things more deeply than any of the other characters. He laments the destruction of forests and is in despair about the general rotten nature of mankind. He perceives his patients, the peasants, to be of a rough and dumb nature, unable to understand the complexities of life, and transcend their everyday concerns of farming, eating, and getting incredibly drunk on vodka. The intellectuals on the other hand are equally unbearable, because they seek a superficial life of pleasure. Astrov views their involvement in discussions of philosophy, music, and art as meaningless games meant either for entertainment or for the competitive advantage of using knowledge as a way to increase self prestige.

Astrov's belief in the self-serving nature of intellectual achievement indirectly comments on one the characters in the play, more specifically Serebriakov. Elena Andreevna and Ivan Petrovich both talk about how Serebriakov's career as a university lecturer of art history served to bolster his ego; his smarts attracted women and the prestige of his colleagues as well as students. It is precisely the attention of colleagues and students that Serebriakov misses in his retirement.

Serebriakov seeks to bolster his ego at the farm by demanding that his intellectual smarts be respected by others. He tells his wife that when he has something to say to the others at the estate, they should listen to him, because that's the kind of respect he feels himself entitled to by his career. He thus feels insulted when his words aren't taken seriously. Uncle Vanya's hatred of Serebriakov is mostly due to the latter's succesful use of his smarts as a mechanism of power. Vanya's dead sister and his beloved Elena Andreevna both fell in love with Serebriakov because they were attracted to his genius. In the case of Elena Andreevna, Serebriakov had lured her with his image of intellectual brilliance into an otherwise unhappy marriage. Vanya realizes that this "image of genius" had served to ruin both his and Elena Andreevna's life. If not for Serebriakov's having attracted Elena, Vanya would have been able to win her over himself and be a more loving husband for her than the professor. Thus, both would have been happy.

As the situation stands, Vanya compares his love for Elena to a sun ray striking a deep pit in the ground. Just like the ray of sun loses its warmth and power to illuminate by hitting a cold, dark pit in the ground, his own heart loses its love and warmth because Elena has rejected him and fell into the snare of the deceptive Professor. Cursing this evilness of fate, Uncle Vanya refuses to talk to Elena's husband altogether. But towards the end of the play, Ivan Petrovich's hatred towards Serebriakov is expressed by more than just avoidance, as Vanya unsuccessfuly aims two gunshots at the professor.

With people being angry enough with each other to both quarrel and shoot from a gun, one would hope that some benevolent character in the play would try to stop them from throttling each other's throats. Such a character is Sonya, the daughter of the professor and his first wife, also niece to Ivan Petrovich. Being related to him and the Serebriakov, she is sympathethic to both and tries to get them to view matters from each other's point of view and to reconcile. She is more understanding of her uncle's bitterness than the others. Through her eyes, the reader is also able to gain a compassionate viewpoint towards this man that otherwise comes across as an annoying ranter who always complains about the professor. Sonya reveals her Uncle Vanya's sensitive side in one of the most poignant moments of the play, when Vanya begins to shed tears while looking into Sonya's face. "Why are you suddenly crying," asks Sonya. "You look so much like your mother, and looking at your face makes me see hers," replies Ivan Petrovich.