The Black Monk By Chekhov: What Does Color Palette Really Mean

Anton Chekhov wrote “The Black Monk” in 1893. It is one of the most powerful and interesting works by the writer. It is a reflection of Anton Chekhov’s profound philosophy and the anxiety that he felt at the time, according to his contemporaries.

His work was described by the author as “A medical story, historical Morbi”(Carter). Chekhov makes it clear that his hero Kovrin suffers from megalomania. This disease was common among Russians in the nineteenth-century. The story’s main theme is, apparently, to show how this passion can destroy a person’s lives. Furthermore, all artistic techniques used in the story are helping to understand the subject. Chekhov is known for his mastery of Russian literature’s sensory details and written words. However, he proved himself to be a master at painting. This story shows him as a great painter, and every word that is used to describe color should refer to the garden. The story begins with the words “such a richness of flowers” (Chekhov). Chekhov doesn’t describe these “various colours”, but he does make a distinction. He says, “All possible shades, from glistening to sootyblack” (Chekhov). Chekhov gives symbolic meaning to these garden colors by underlining their unusual hues.

The ballads have a lot to do with the symbolism of black and white colors. Chekhov was probably referring to this symbolism when he wrote that Kovrin had read a tale or heard it in a book. The combination of the black monk appearance and the pale dawn or moon or combination black robes with white faces (“pale, horribly pale face!” – the author describes it) directs the reader towards the traditional romantic ballad. What does this color mean in a ballad, you ask? White is the color of youth and life. Black is always associated with death.

It is possible to see that the contrast between white and black dates back to the Bible. The date of the appearance is specified in “The Black Monk”, as it was exactly a thousand year ago. The Apocalypse states that the devil is kept in prison for a thousand year. It is possible that the black monk could be a devil. His presence is felt for 1000 years beyond the earth. The universe is often associated with the abyss in romantic traditions. Chekhov opens up another dimension of color symbolism. The white color is God’s chosen color. A white man is one who is unblemished and sinless. Kovrin, at the beginning the story, calms down.

White appears in the story only once, at the end. Kovrin takes Tania’s letters and breaks them. The scraps are thrown on the floor and they become white. An easy solution is to link the episode symbolisms white and Tanya. But this interpretation may not be completely accurate. Kovrin grabs the letters and throws them out the window. However, wind blowing from the ocean scatters the pieces onto the windowsill. A black monk approaches Kovrin and threatens his life. Kovrin, who is now dead, lies on the ground, with the letter above him. This is what he most needs. It appears that Kovrin’s sacrifices for his idea, of choosingness, are represented by the white color, which is the color of the life.

It is important to add one detail to the color palette. The story is sloppy and repetitive in its use of color adjectives. The only time the Crimean Bay is described in detail is at the end. His life has been wasted!

The reader can confidently state that Chekhov’s short story “The Black Monk”, portrays himself as an accomplished artist of this world. The author manages to elevate the color scheme to symbolism and show the opposition to Kovrin’s delusions using contrasting black-white colors.


Carter R. (1996) “Anton P. Chekhov MD (1860-1904): dual literary and medical careers.” Annals of Thoracic Surgery: 61.5 (5): 1557-1563.

Chekhov B. The story “The Black Monk” follows a monk who is shrouded in mystery. Retrieved from


  • zakhart

    Zak Hart is an educational blogger and professor who has been writing about education for over 10 years. He has written for various publications, including The Huffington Post and Edutopia, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities. Zak is the founder and director of the Edutopia Academy, an online education program that provides teachers with resources and lessons to help them improve their teaching skills.

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