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Class 11, Language Development, Unit 5 -Life and Love

Class 11, Language Development, Unit 5 -Life and Love

Unit-5 Life and Love


“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.”

-Hellen Keller

(Birth 27 June 1880, died 1June 1968, A USA born Writer, political activist, lecturer who lost her sight when she was 19 months)



Unit 5, Life and Love

The Looking Glass

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

A Russian writer, dramatist and story writer, Student of medicine in Moscow, Russia Medical practitioner and writer.

 Type of Work: Short Story (1885)

Theme: Devotion, loneliness, escape, fear, love, dedication, hope, defeat, and independence

Narration: Third person

Characters: Nellie, Doctor Stepan Lukitch, Doctor Zemstvo

Setting: Russia, New Year’s Time

Tone: Gloomy and Dark



As the story opens, Nellie is gazing into a mirror on New Year’s Eve. She is young and pretty woman, born into privilege, for her father is a landowner and general. Nellie is obsessed with marriage; her life revolves around dreams of finding a husband. As she stares into the mirror, exhausted and bleary-eyed, her own reflection fades away to gray, and she begins to see her own future. She sees the face of her future husband and then many scenes of their life together. At the first images are blissful, a happy dream. But she sees a much more distressing scene: she sees herself, distraught, pounding on the door of the local doctor, imploring him to come to her home and take care of her husband, who she is sure has typhus (high fever often causes death). The exhausted doctor has been tending to typhus patients for many days and is suffering from a high fever himself, but Nellie is relentless in her desperation. Finally, the doctor agrees to come with her. However, by the time they travel the thirty miles by horse and carriage to Nellie’s home, the doctor is too delirious to treat anyone. Determined, Nellie travels to get another doctor, one even farther away in the district.


These images fade again to more scene of their marriage, and this time the pictures are grim. She sees how they struggle to pay their bills and hang on to their home and how they must worry constantly about their children’s health, education, and survival. Finally, she sees her husband’s death in detail, including the arrival of the undertaker and clergy man for his funeral. Looking into her husband’s face, she asks, “Why is it? What is it for?”


At this moment, the mirror she is holding in her hand falls to the floor and wakes her from her nightmare. The larger looking glass on the table stands but now shows her only her own reflection. She sighs with relief, thinking, “I must have fallen asleep.”


Literary Analysis

In The Looking-Glass by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of devotion, loneliness, escape, fear, love, dedication, hope, defeat and independence. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realizes that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of love. Though Nellie’s account of what is happening in the story is fictional (it never happens and is a dream) it is obvious that she is very much in love with the man that she chooses to be her husband. As to why Nellie might feel the need to escape into a dream may also be important as it could suggest that at present, she is discontent with her life, if not lonely. The looking-glass provides Nellie with an outlet to escape from the life that she is living. A life, in whereby, she is a single, unattached woman, who longs to find a man who will love her and who she too can love. In essence Nellie is seeking happiness through marriage. Though some critics may suggest that Nellie is dependent on a man to achieve happiness it is important to remember that the story was written in the 1880s and for many women the only avenue they had to improve their outlook in life was marriage. Nellie would be no different to many of the women at the time the story was written.


Chekhov also appears to be exploring the theme of devotion and the lengths that Nellie will go to in order to save her husband’s life. She travels through the night to get to Dr Lukitch’s home and attempts to persuade him to return with her to her house in order to help her husband. Nellie’s dialogue with Dr Lukitch is also important for two reasons. Firstly she will not take no for an answer which further suggests that Nellie is devoted if not dedicated to her husband. The second reason that Nellie’s conversation with Dr Lukitch is important is because the reader can sense just how afraid Nellie is. She is afraid that her husband will die. The result being that Nellie will be alone again. Which the reader is already aware makes Nellie unhappy. If anything Nellie is persistent when it comes to Dr Lukitch, she is driven by her love and devotion to her husband. Though it is important to remember again that Nellie is dreaming and each action that occurs in the story when it comes to Nellie’s husband is a moment of hope or aspiration with Nellie longing for an alternative life to the one that she lives.


As Chekhov gives no real background to Nellie’s life it is difficult to say for certain as to why she might want to escape from the world that she knows. It is possible that she is of the age when it is expected for a woman to get married. It might also be a case that Nellie feels bored with her life and longs for a man’s company. Though again it is difficult to say for certain. One thing however that is clear is that should Nellie marry (in real life) she may very well give her all to her husband just as she is doing in her dream. Nellie appears to equate happiness to being married which again would have been common at the time the story was written. Though Nellie is acting independently of others in the story (she chooses to go to the doctor) she may not necessarily be able to live her life independently of her husband. With society dictating that a wife’s place is beside their husband. Though, this may not necessarily bother Nellie considering that she is very much in love.


The end of the story is also interesting as Nellie doesn’t give up after she realizes that Dr Lukitch has also come down with typhus. Rather she remains undefeated and begins her journey to the Zemstvo doctor. It is also interesting that doubt begins to set in for Nellie. Prior to her dream ending she begins to question what life might really be. How an individual can die. How a bank can repossess a home should a person fall behind in payments. In essence the reality of life sets in for Nellie just as the looking-glass breaks. No longer is she seeing a reflection of all her hopes and aspirations but rather through the other looking-glass she is seeing her own reflection. Nellie has stopped dreaming and is facing the realities of life. Realities that do not necessarily disturb Nellie despite having previously longed to be married. There is a sense that Nellie is content with her situation and is fully aware that what has occurred has been no more than a dream. Whether Nellie pursues her dream is difficult to say such is her relief at the end of the story. She may very well marry in the future though it is also possible that she may focus on herself rather than on a husband and family. At the end of the story Nellie realizes that she does not necessarily need a husband to be happy.



Ways with words

A. Match the words with their meanings.

a) Exhausted - tired

b) Apparent - clear

c) Vista - vision

d) Undulating - wavy

e) Destined - predetermined

f) Stuffy - suffocating, airless

g) Restrain - prevent, hinder


B. Write the meaning and word class of the following words. Then use them in sentences of your own.

Implore (verb) - beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something. I implore mercy.

Despair (verb) - lose or be without hope. We should not despair.

Beseech (verb) - ask (someone) urgently and fervently to do something; implore; entreat. They beseeched him to stay.

Eloquent (adj) - fluent or persuasive in speaking or writing, His speeches in the chamber were always eloquent and powerful.

Whirl (verb) - move or cause to move rapidly round and round. The leaves whirled in eddies of wind.

Egoism (Noun) - an ethical theory that treats self-interest as the foundation of morality, His egoism prevented him from really loving anyone.

Agony (noun) - extreme physical or mental suffering, She screamed again in agony as pain seared through her shoulder

Delirious (adj) - in an acutely disturbed state of mind characterized by restlessness, illusions, and incoherence; He became delirious and couldn't recognize people.

Delusive (adj) - giving a false or misleading impression, clinging to her delusive hopes, the woman couldn't let go of her false dreams.

Compensate (verb)- give (someone) something, typically money, in recognition of loss, suffering, or injury incurred; recompense. Payments were made to farmers to compensate them for cuts in subsidies.

mortgage (noun) - a legal agreement by which a bank, building society, etc. lends money at interest in exchange for taking title of the debtor's property, with the condition that the conveyance of title becomes void upon the payment of the debt. I put down a hundred thousand in cash and took out a mortgage for the rest.

Brood (verb) - think deeply about something that makes one unhappy, angry, or worried; She had brooded over the subject a thousand times.

Prelude (Noun) - an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important. A ceasefire had been agreed as a prelude to full peace negotiations.



C. In the story, you saw the words like ‘exhausted’ and ‘smiling’. They are used as adjectives. Adjectives ending in - ing describe what someone or something like, whereas adjectives ending in -ed describe how someone feels, compare:

My job is boring/interesting/tiring/satisfying/pleasing.

I’m bored/interested/tired/satisfied/pleased with my job


D. Choose the correct word.

a) Sarita was shocking/shocked to hear about the earthquake.

b) I think that rainy days in winter are depressing/depressed.

c) The football match was very exciting/excited. I enjoyed it.

d) The meal at Delight Cafe are satisfying/satisfied.

e) I’ve got nothing to do. I’m boring/bored.

f) Tanka is very good at telling funny stories. He can be very amusing/amused.

g) The teacher’s explanation was confusing/confused. Most of the students didn’t understand it.

h) He is such a boring/bored person. He never wants to go out.

i) I will be surprising/surprised if she does well in her test.

j) Are you interesting/interested in politics?


E. Write the correct form of the adjectives in the blank as in the example.

Example- Grammar rules frustrate me. They’re not logical. They are so frustrating.

a) They frustrate me but they don’t bore me. I never get bored when I study grammar.

b) If teachers want to interest the students they must use interesting materials.

c) Certain stories interest almost everybody. For example, most students are interested in fairy tales.

d) Certain things frighten me, but I never get frightened when I speak English.

e) If I get a good grade, that excites me. And if I get more than ninety percent, I am really excited.



Answer these questions.

a) Who was Nellie? What did she used to dream of?

Ans:- Nellie was a young and pretty daughter of a landowner and general. She used to dream of a handsome man whom she chooses to be her husband.


b) What was she doing with the looking glass?

Ans:- She was sitting motionlessly in front of the looking glass dreaming of her destined husband.


c) Why did she go to the doctor on one winter night?

Ans:- She went to the doctor on one winter night because he husband was caught by typhus.


d) What was Stepan Lukitch doing when she reached his bedroom?

Ans:- Stephan Lukitch, only one district doctor, was lying on his bed dressed, but without his coat, and with pouting lips he was breathing into his open hand, when she (Nellie) reached his bedroom.


e) Why was the doctor not ready to go to see her husband?

Ans:- He was not ready to go to see her husband because he has just come at his house after three days seeing lots of typhus patients and he was caught himself it.


f) Why did Stepan Lukitch suggest Nellie to go to the Zemstov doctor?

Ans:- Lukitch suggested Nellie to go to the Zemstov doctor because he was tired and sick and he was unable to make a house call.


g) Nellie said, “Come, perform that heroic deed! Have pity on us!” What was that pity to be done?

Ans:- The pity to be done was going at her home and curing her sick husband who was in a critical condition and fetching another doctor was to go to another 30 miles which was not possible at that time.


h) When Nellie said, “I must have fallen asleep.” What does it mean?

Ans:- She was dreaming of her destined husband sitting motionlessly in front of a handy mirror and when she came into the real world disturbed by the sound of the fall of something from her hand and  she said, “I must have fallen asleep.” to make her feel comfort.




Critical Thinking

a. “The Looking Glass (Mirror)” is used as a symbol in the story. What does it symbolize?


Chekhov's narrator introduces the story's only character, Nellie, looking into mirror as her eyes get tired shut with fatigue. The narrator states that Nellie spends all day and night dreaming of being married, most likely staring into one of the two looking glasses mentioned in her room. So, from the story's opening, the looking glass symbolizes Nellie's essential qualities: her obsession with marriage, her vanity, and her weak connection with reality. The mirror provides Nellie's only source of escape from the boredom and isolation of life on her father's country estate. To emphasize the deep connection between Nellie and her mirrors, the narrator makes a direct physical comparison between her and them. Like the glass, Nellie is "pale, tense and motionless," and its grey background corresponds to the "dark, empty, meaningless" void out of which her dream husband emerges. This comparison suggests that there is nothing real or meaningful for Nellie outside of the looking-glass's reflective surface, implying the self-imposed limits of Nellie's consciousness. She feels like she and her existence have no real value on their own beyond the "bliss" she feels with her idealized notion of love and marriage. At the end of the story, Chekhov uses the looking glass to provide a parallel and contrast with the way the symbol is used at the beginning to represent the gateway to Nellie's dream life. In the ending, though, it is the sound of Nellie's hand-held mirror falling to the floor that jars her awake and out of her emotionally-draining dream. When she looks up at the table-mirror, she is relieved to see her "tear-stained" face in the reflection, and not the grey background signifying an approaching fantasy.


b) Chekhov employs the magic trick in the story, using a very elegant transition from reality to imagination to realty sequence. Discuss its relevance to life of young people.


Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Looking Glass” might be relevant to the life of young people due to its fairy-tale quality. It’s as if Nellie turns herself into a distressed princess; her husband becomes a kind of afflicted prince charming. It’s interesting that her husband doesn’t have a name. The lack of a name connects to other fairy tales for young readers in which the male love interest is never given a clear name. In Cinderella, for instance, the prince has no name.


Apart from a connection to fairy tales intended for young people, it could be argued that Chekov’s short story underscores the ways in which young people tend to dramatize life. It’s not uncommon for books, movies, and TV shows to portray young people as histrionic, overemotional, and hyperbolic. Nellie might represent the ways in which young people tend to glamorize love, suffering, and other things that might not be so enchanting in reality. Since some young people are fortunate enough to have not had to personally experience devastating hardship, they might be more inclined to invent their own. If their imagined scene grows too scary, they can, like Nellie, wake up, and it’ll be done with.


When discussing the relevance of “The Looking to Glass” to young people, it might be insightful to note that all people, whatever their age, tend to be susceptible to fantasy, exaggeration, and flights of fancy. There are probably just as many overdramatic books, movies, and TV shows for adults as there are for young people. Furthermore, the sensational, slanted nature of social media and news outlets suggests that adults travel back and forth between reality and fantasy more often than they might like to admit.


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