Though there is a strong focus on the relationships and duties of men and women, it is also evident in both works, Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House that death has a profound effect on the behavior and actions of the characters. The authors discuss social issues such as marital roles, importance of family, and appearance and status in hope that the reader can gain a better understanding or develop another view on what would seem like a well-to-do family. In Three Sisters, the Prozorov family suffers from the loss of their loving patriarch and in A Doll's House, the female protagonist is faced with a loan forged with her late father's signature and her doctor friend manages a terminal disease passed down to him by his father. The motif of death and the burdens that result plague the characters physically and psychologically, but it is one of the necessary obstacles that they must overcome in order to achieve the happiness that they seek.
The death, a very common motif in literature, appears several times in both plays but is portrayed in different styles by these two authors. Nevertheless, death ends a character, those left "living" usually reflect on memories and feelings associated with this fallen character. Death can also be the beginning for the ones that remain because in most cases, there are aftereffects such as grieving or financial or social burdens. Even after a year, some still reminisce about a loved one's funeral as the sisters do in Three Sisters when they describe it as a small gathering with a military band on a snowy day despite their father having been a "general in command of the brigade". While, in A Doll's House, Chekhov's style of using death as a motif can be somewhat subtle at first glance in comparison to Ibsen's use which appears quite frequently with two of the characters, Nora and Dr. Rank, whose dealings with death have caused them to have to adapt quite drastically to their situation.
"For instance, after Father died, for a long time we couldn't get accustomed to the idea that we hadn't any orderlies to wait on us."(Chekhov 34)
In Three Sisters, the death of the father the year before is mentioned and by the mood, the reader can observe that the adult children, who were "violently educated", now live a bored, dissatisfied life. This example of death resulted in burdening the remaining family members because they have lost the motivation and "pressure" that was once thrust upon them. On the other hand, the three sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irena and their brother, Andrey, feel relieved but are ungrateful that they learned "unnecessary" subjects such as foreign languages. There is no genuine happiness or satisfaction in the Prozorov household. Andrey is given the task of being the "man of the house" but does not take a strong leadership role. This causes even more problems later on as Natasha, his wife, takes control and the characters must learn how to live together peacefully.
"The wives deceive their husbands, and the husbands lie to their wives, and pretend they don't see anything and don't hear anythingâ€¦And all this overwhelming vulgarity and pettiness crushes the children and puts out any spark they might have in them, so that they, too, become miserable, half-dead creatures, just like one another and just like their parents!..."(Chekhov 80)
The soldier characters of the play are furthermore affected by this motif of death. Another character, Vershinin, one of the soldiers and close family friend, is married to a woman with suicidal tendencies which prompt him to begin a relationship with the only married Prozorov sister, Masha. Though Masha's older husband, Koolyghin, is aware of his wife's infidelity, he, in the end, forgives her and the affair ends with Vershinin returning to his mentally ill wife and his children. In addition, Captain Soliony's "scented hands" symbolizes his exposure to war and death of both his troops and the enemy. He tries in vain to keep them from smelling of "death", but in truth, this is the author's way of foreshadowing the upcoming death of his rival in love, Toozenbach in a duel of the death for Irena, the youngest sister. This does not complicate Irina's decision to leave her household but it affects her in a way that she begins to cry about all the suffering and the purpose of work.
"â€¦papa was so illâ€¦If I had asked him for his signature, I should have had to tell him what the money was to be used for; and when he was so ill himself, I couldn't tell him that my husband's life was in danger - it was impossible."(Ibsen 24)
In the first act of A Doll's House, Nora, becomes aware of the consequences of trying to save her husband's life because in order to pay for the loan, she required the signature of a male cosigner. Desperate and not wanting to tell her dying father of her troubles, Nora forges her father's signature despite the date being dated three days after his death. This raises the question if Nora's father's life was less important than the life of her husband. The type of society that Nora lives in is one based on tradition and appearances meaning that now that she was someone else's wife, it was her "duty" to do anything in her power to serve him. Unfortunately, Nora finds out later on that her husband cares more about his public image rather than the feelings and consideration that his wife put into trying to improve his ailing condition. This example of death and the burdens that result as a motif prove that sometimes the feelings and understanding are not recuperated among all those involved. Good intentions were put forth, but death or near-death of someone causes the characters to react like their true selves.
"It was just after Ivar was born; but naturally we had to go. It was a wonderfully beautiful journey, and it saved Torvald's life. But it cost a tremendous lot of moneyâ€¦I ought to tell you that we had it from papaâ€¦I couldn't go and nurse him. I was expecting little Ivar's birth every day and I had my poor sick Torvald to look after. My dear, kind father - I never saw him again, Christine. That was the saddest time I have known since our marriage." (Ibsen 9-10)
As for the case with Dr. Rank, a male confidant of Nora, he obtained a hereditary disease of "tuberculosis of the spine". He is well aware that he will die soon, as he symbolizes it with the black cross on the card that he will send to Torvald, Nora's husband. When Dr. Rank says that the burden and problems pass down from the parent to child also applies to Nora because she and her husband are being negative influences on their young children. She has not been the best type of mother while Torvald has been caught up in appearances and the opinions of other people. Death affects him by making him bitter about his father and the burdens that he left him with because of his depravity as well as the shortening of his life and suffering his must go through caused by the disease. One of his quotes is:
"â€¦I shall send you my card with a black cross on it, and then you will know that the loathsome end has begunâ€¦With death stalking beside me? - To have to pay this penalty for another man's sin? Is there any justice in that? And in every family, in one way or another some such inexorable retribution is being exactedâ€¦" (Ibsen 37)
The motif of death and its aftereffects used by both authors Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen in their works allow the characters to express different types of emotions ranging from angry to disappointment for the future. Characters in Three Sisters failed in their attempt to find any kind of "real" happiness after the death of the father and it is unknown if they will find any after the death of Toozenbach. Whereas in the play, A Doll's House, the death of her father, the revealing of her husband's true nature, and the little rebellious acts that Nora displayed changed her for the better and she could look forward to starting a new, independent life for herself. The condition of Dr. Rank was left terminal, but the knowledge of his death has made him into a stronger male character that does not treat women as a weaker class. An encounter with death is certainly one of the obstacles that the characters of both plays needed, but only the ones with the strength and determination overcame it to find change in their lives and the rest were left wondering what would be the next step.