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“If only we knew”: Repetition compulsion in Chekhov

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The examination of Chekhovian repetition.
  2. Freud's argument that there are two primary types of repetition compulsion.
  3. The titular characters in The Three Sisters.
    1. The passage that appears at the end of the play.
    2. Passage as an example of Freud's concept of repetition compulsion.
  4. The best example of repetition compulsion from The Three Sisters - Chebutykin.
  5. Misail's belief that 'Nothing passes'.
  6. The central characters in The Lady with the Little Dog.
  7. Conclusion - Chekhov's writings and flawed characters possessing severe cases of repetition compulsion.

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 principle?the human drive to seek pleasure?repetition 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! [...]


[...] Thus, Gurov already has an established pattern of self-destructive repetition in which the pleasure he seeks quickly becomes source of unpleasure? or a ?pleasure that cannot be felt as such? (Freud 7). His seduction of a woman always turns into a burdensome task, difficult to begin and nearly impossible to end. As it turns out, Anna Sergeevna?the woman he chases in Lady with the Little Lapdog??is no exception, though Gurov and readers may at first perceive her as such. Gurov meets Anna in summery Yalta and, after tempting her with his routine seduction, begins an extramarital affair that unexpectedly turns into love for the first time in his life. [...]

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