Vasily Vasilyevich Bessemionov lives in a prosperous house, he is 58, the foreman of the paint shop, who marks a deputy in the city duma from the shop class; Akulina Ivanovna, his wife; son Peter, a former student, expelled for taking part in unlawful student meetings; daughter Tatyana, a schoolteacher who sat up in brides; pupil Bessemeenova Nil, a machinist in a railway depot; church choir Teteriv and student Shishkin – parasites;
Elena Nikolaevna Krivtsova is a young widow of the prison warden, who is renting rooms in the house, and Stepanida is a cook who performs all the black work in the house with the help of the girl Poly, seamstresses, daughters of the distant relative Bessemenov Perchikhin, a dealer of song birds and a drunkard. In addition to them, Tsvetaeva, a young teacher, Tatyana’s friend, is often in the house.
The play takes place in an atmosphere of ever-flaring and fading scandals between Bessemyonov and his
children. The father is dissatisfied with the disrespect of the children, and the fact that both still have not found their place in life. In his opinion, both of them became too “educated” and therefore proud. This prevents them from living. Tatyana simply must marry, and Peter – it is profitable to marry and work to multiply the wealth of his father. As the action develops, it becomes clear that children do not so much want to live “fatherly” as they simply can not because of their weakened will, loss of interest in life, etc. Education really did not work for them; it only confused them, deprived them of the will to live and solid petty-bourgeois roots.
This is the main tragedy of the family Bessemenovyh. In the case of Peter, in the opinion of Teterev, who plays the peculiar role of the resonator in the play, this tragedy must be decided in favor of his father: Peter will leave Krivtsov, in which he is still in love with the will of his parents, will inevitably follow his father’s path and become an exemplary philistine too. In the case of Tatyana, who is hopelessly in love
with Neil, already bound by mutual love with Polya, the question is open: most likely, Tatiana will remain an unhappy victim of the contradiction between her petty-bourgeois roots and the new trends of the times.
These trends are most clearly expressed by Neal, the most “progressive” hero and, obviously, the future socialist revolutionary, as hinted at by Bessemenov. Neil reflects the aesthetics of struggle and work that are close to each other and are inextricably linked with each other. For example, he likes to forge, but not because he loves labor in general, but because he likes to fight with metal, suppressing his resistance. At the same time, the will and purpose of the Nile have the opposite side: he is ruthless towards Tatyana in love with him and to Bessemyonov who brought him up.
Along the way, the story unfolds in the marginal subjects: Teterev’s love for Paul, in which he sees his last salvation from drunkenness and boredom of life; the fate of Perchikhin, a man not of this world, living only in love for the birds and the forest; The tragedy of Krivtsova, in love with life, but lost her place in it. The most interesting of the secondary characters is Teterev. This person is too huge (both physically and spiritually) for that wretched life, whose masters are Bessemenov and his ilk. But he is unlikely to find a place in the life, whose masters will be people like Neal. His image is the image of the eternal exile of life.
The play ends on a tragic note. After an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide, Tatiana understands her own doom and uselessness among people. In the last scene, she falls on the piano keys, and an inconsistent loud sound is heard…