Chexov and Twentieth-Century American Drama

Zsuzsa Fulop, University of Miskolc, Hungary

The aim of my paper is to analyze the relationship between Chexovian drama and twentieth-century American plays with special attention to the works of Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. The main line of scrutiny, however, does not concentrate on the genetic connection of the two, despite the fact that one of my essays demonstrated how American theater at the beginning of the century popularized the plays of Chexov and how new American drama was able to receive this influence (but it did not grow great simply as a recipient of the influence of the new European drama). Rather the main objective of the paper is to examine the typological convergence between Chexov and the American dramatists through selected plays. There are some thematic links to be pointed out and parallels to be drawn between particular plays (e.g., Cherry Orchard -- Long Day's Journey Into Night, Three Sisters -- The Glass Menagerie, etc.). In these works, the quality and functions of symbols appearing as colors, animals, elements of nature, and places with a dreamlike or nostalgic atmosphere play an important role. Both Chexov and the American playwrights include quotations and aphorisms from the works of great predecessors or contemporaries in the dialogues of their characters, which commonly use them as a means of justification for their actions or poor habits. Many characters are given "anti-descriptive" names (Prozorov, Blanche, etc.) to contrast their thoughts and actions and thus contribute to the important thematic element of illusion and reality. The application of mythic prefigurations, references to music and the theater have significant functions in both the Russian and the American plays, while suppressed emotions can be associated with the fact that the characters are unable to face reality. For many of the characters the past is idealized and represents a sheltered dream-world through which they consider the present nothing but a transition from the past to the future. Apart from the typological convergence the generic aspect of the investigation is concerned with the complex relationship between the dramatic and the epic as well as the dramatic and the lyric: the presentation of the world of alienation moves drama towards fiction, the expression of the counter-world of alienation takes drama to the direction of the lyric. It is for this reason that we must look at the integration of poems and that of the short story pattern in the dramatic texture of the relevant plays. In the latter case I am analyzing the problem by relying on the methodology of Peter Egri (Chekhov and O'Neill), but my investigation includes other American dramatists, too, so that I can analyze and generalize the problem in a wider context. The research was carried out in Moscow and in the USA (the University of Delaware) and represents an alternative viewpoint--that of a comparativist and outsider, as I do not belong to either of the cultures.