Although the examination of Chekhovian repetition can undoubtedly be explored through a method of means, no lens is more appropriate than that of Freud, not only the father of modern psychology but also the originator of the concept repetition compulsion, still a major component of clinical psychology to this day. Freud, in his groundbreaking 1920 essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle, defines repetition compulsion as a human's unconscious drive toward self-destruction and his need to satisfy the death instinct-- the human urge to return to the inanimate state (50). While he noted children's inclination to repeat their actions in order to gain mastery over a situation, and thereby act in accordance with the pleasure principle, in adults Freud noticed the opposite phenomenon. Rather than serve or at least cooperate with the pleasure principlethe human drive to seek pleasurerepetition compulsion in adults often consists of a fixation on, and a repetition of, past negative experiences that the person knows to have caused nothing but unpleasure.
[...] This passage, the very last moments of The Three Sisters, is latent with examples of Freud's concept of repetition compulsion; Masha insists that must Irina that must Chebutykin that doesn't matter,” and Olga only we knew.” In their own way, each illustrates “that there really does exist in the mind a compulsion to repeat which overrides the pleasure principle” (Freud 25). To begin with, Masha's past experience within the play has certainly taught her that living, especially now that she is once again without the sexual distraction of Vershinin, holds no pleasure, yet she is determined to go on living as she always has before her love affair. [...]
[...] I have italicized crucial examples of repetition compulsion in order to better bring them to the reader's attention: MASHA: Oh, listen to the band playing! They are leaving us, one has gone, gone, gone forever, we are left alone, to begin our life over again. We must live We must live. IRINA: The time will come when everyone shall know the reason for all this, the reason why people must suffer, there shall be no more secrets, ever, but for the time being we must live we must work, we must only work! [...]
[...] Olga cries out only we four times in the play's last moments, revealing her fixation on that which is unknowable (157). In the eldest sister's case, her need for unattainable certainty arises from compulsion inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces” (Freud 47). In other words, Olga wishes to return to the child-like certainty she once had before the harshness of life robbed her of it, and her repetition compulsion thus manifests itself in a present need for a previous outlook on the future. [...]
[...] Masha's repetition compulsion is manifested in her actions; she has a bad habit of committing to people and activities and, when she tires of them—as she inevitably does—abandoning them abruptly. Her father, Viktor Ivanych, is aware of his daughter's tendency and thus calls the couple's marriage whim and an indulgence” (502). He sees no need to treat his son-in-law well, as Masha will only quit him as she has everything else in her life: “‘Something like this already happened to her,' he [Ivanych] told me [Misail] about Masha. [...]
[...] The distinction between active and passive repetition compulsion is a vital one, because, in the former, there is always the possibility that the person might someday break his/her repetitive cycle of self-destruction, whereas, in the latter, there is no such option since the person has no control over the situation. For Chekhov's characters, there is always a sliver of hope, a trace of light that suggests to them that perhaps if they wait long enough, one day in the far off future or maybe in the distant hereafter, everything will change. [...]
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