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Old Monday, January 15, 2007
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Default The Cherry Orchard :Anton Chekhov

KEY FACTS
Full title · The Cherry Orchard: A Comedy in Four Acts
Author · Anton Chekhov
Type of work · Play
Genre · Comedy (satirical, ironic, often concerned with marriage proposals); Tragedy (involving catastrophic loss as a result of the protagonist's weakness)
Language · Russian
Time and place written · From 1901 to 1903, in Yalta, an island in the Mediterranean.
Date of first performance · seventeen January 1904
Date of first publication · During the last week of June, 1904 (just a few days before Chekhov's death on July one)
Narrator · There is no narrator in the play
Climax · The climax comes in Act Three, when Lopakhin reveals he has bought the orchard
Protagonist · Ranevsky
Setting (time) · Between May and October of a year around the beginning of the 20th century
Setting (place) · At the country estate of Lyuba Ranevsky
Falling action · Everyone leaves the house in October after Lopakhin purchases the estate in August; this departure constitutes the entire fourth Act
Tense · Not applicable (drama); but the story is told both directly and in flashbacks
Foreshadowing · Firs walk across the stage in Act One foreshadows his death scene in Act Four; in Act One, Lopakhin foreshadows his own purchase of the orchard by declaring that the orchard cannot be saved except by his plan;
Tone · Varying between absurd, satirical, ironic and tragic
Themes · Modernity vs. the old Russia; breaking with the past; nature
Motifs · The union of naturalism and symbolism; miscommunication; self-consciousness
Symbols · The cherry orchard; the sound of a breaking string
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THE CHERRY ORCHARD

The nineteenth century offered two important developments to Russia which are manifested in the play. In the 1830's, the railroads arrived, an important step in Russia's move into a more international sphere. More importantly, in February of 1861, Russia's vast population of serfs was liberated for good, bringing a long-awaited social change. These two dimensions, social change and the growing importance of the international community, pervade the play and even drive the plot.
The railroad facilitates Madame Ranevsky in coming and going across borders, but the intrigue itself deals with the theme of social change: the aristocratic family loses power as the former serf gains, and a whole host of other characters fall in between. With the changes in the class system, debates about the nature of progress and freedom spring up across Russia, and these questions are reflected in The Cherry Orchard as well. The theme of social change is an international theme at the moment when the play was written: countries everywhere, including the United States, were experiencing similar growing pains and similar philosophical debates.
Chekhov's writing style is very pertinent to the population of Russia at this moment. While former aristocrats still patronized the arts, there was also a growing class of less educated, nouveau-rich attending the theater. Chekhov's plays are famous for their simple language, which many hold partly responsible for his popularity. The fact that his play discusses every social class in language that everyone can understand makes his play accessible to people of all backgrounds. It makes high-brow jokes while also being universally comedic.
Chekhov had a strong sense of social duty; his play implies that a sense of social duty towards others is necessary for the advancement of humanity. This idea is manifested in the fact that nearly all of his characters are sympathetic. Chekhov felt it was important that his characters be sympathetic, and indeed, The Cherry Orchard lacks a villain. While the play certainly criticizes our faults, it only does so to guide us in the right direction: the sympathetic quality of the characters, the accessibility of the language, combined with the factors of social change makes The Cherry Orchard critical and philosophical, yet fundamentally an optimistic work.
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CONTEXT

Anton Pavlevich Chekhov was born on January 17th, 1860, in Taganrog, Russia. His father Pavel was a shopkeeper in the town, which was small, provincial, and on the Sea of Azov in the south of Russia, and his grandfather was Egor Chekhov, a serf. Serfs were the legal property of the landowners who owned the property on which they resided; it was thus a form of slavery. In 1841, Egor bought freedom for himself and his family at the price of 875 rubles.

Russia had been changing ever since the early 18th century, when Tsar Peter the Great carried out a series of reforms with the intent of modernizing Russia in Western Europe's image. European styles in fashion and art were imported, the Western canon was widely read among the nobility, and French was adopted as the language of cultured discourse. A large government bureaucracy was created; the achievement of rank became an obsession of Russian life. During Chekhov's childhood, in the time of Tsar Alexander II, a second wave of reforms was underway, reforms that further liberalized the country and its economy. The most important of these was the Emancipation Declaration of 1861, which freed the serfs from bondage. These reforms caused great controversy, as they introduced what was, in effect, the beginning of a free-market economy, undermining the power of the nobility, and sometimes even impoverishing them. The situation displayed in The Cherry Orchard, of a wealthy landowning family forced to sell their estate in order to pay their debts, was thus a familiar one in the Russian society of Chekhov's day.

Chekhov himself had a relatively quiet childhood. He attended the local Russian grammar school, worked in his father's store and occasionally wrote small pieces for the amusement of his family. Taganrog was not a typical provincial town; it was a multicultural port, with Italians, Greeks, and Turks residing in the wealthier sections of town and Russians such as the Chekhovs living in comparatively poor suburbs. It had a theater, which the young Chekhov would often visit. When Chekhov was sixteen, Pavel's store failed, and the entire family had to move to Moscow—the entire family, that is, except for Anton. A merchant (and friend of the family) had helped the Chekhovs with a loan, but insisted on keeping Anton with him in the house as a kind of collateral. As soon as he could, he left Taganrog in order to pursue medical studies in Moscow in 1879 at the age of 19.

That year, Chekhov began to write comic stories in order to pay his medical school tuition. By the time he was twenty, he was employed by The Spectator magazine as their regular humorist. Over ninety percent of Chekhov's published work appeared in magazines before he was twenty-eight, and, by this age, he had already established himself as a premier writer of short stories. As he developed as a writer, his stories began to take on deeper and more profound themes, as he moved away from his comic roots.

To this day, Chekhov's literary reputation primarily rests with his short stories, and Chekhov's early plays, written primarily in his early 20s, are not well-remembered. It was only in 1896 that he began to turn his attention back to drama; in the eight remaining years before his death, he managed to complete four plays: The Seagull,Uncle Vanya,The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard.

The first performance of The Seagull was nearly laughed off the stage; it was criticized as dull, unimaginative, and lacking any sort of dramatic tension (a critical undercurrent that has survived in Russia to this day). Only gradually did Chekhov's new form of drama, emphasizing characterization, detail and symbolism instead of plot development and incident, gain acceptance. Chekhov was the in-house playwright for the Moscow Arts Theatre, which had been founded by his friend Vladimir Nemirovich-Davchenko. During this time, he fell in love with one of the Theatre's leading actresses, Olga Knipper, and would marry her in 1901.

Chekhov wrote his last two plays after he had been diagnosed, in 1898, with tuberculosis. The Cherry Orchard itself was written over a period of more than two years, from early 1901 to late 1903, during which Chekhov was often in doctor-imposed exile from his wife and friends in Moscow, on the Mediterranean island of Yalta, in order to spare his ailing lungs.
The germination of The Cherry Orchard probably came from numerous and diverse sources, over a longer period of time than that for any of Chekhov's other works. Chekhov had known cherry trees from his childhood days in Taganrog, before they were all cleared as a result of Alexander's liberal economic policies which encouraged development of the Russian hinterland. Also, Chekhov had himself planted a cherry orchard on an estate in Melikhovo that he purchased in 1892; he lost the estate a short while later, and the new owner cut down the cherry trees. Much of the intellectual discussion in The Cherry Orchard is distinctly influenced by Chekhov's wide reading in literature, philosophy, and the natural sciences, especially Darwin's Origin of the Species (first published only some forty years earlier) and Marxist and socialist philosophy (though Chekhov himself was not himself a member of any revolutionary movements).

Chekhov had initially intended his last play to be a comedy, vaudeville in fact, and though he may have given up that last idea he still subtitles his play A Comedy in Four Acts. Unfortunately for Chekhov, the most common reaction to the play was typified by his wife: "by the fourth act I burst out sobbing". Stanislavsky, the play's director, decided to interpret the play as a drama, against Chekhov's wishes. The debate over whether the play is in fact a comedy or a drama still goes on to this day.

The initial reception of the play ranged from the indifference of Maxim Gorky, who thought the play's story to be completely insignificant, to the loathing of Ivan Bunin, who attacked the play for being unrealistic in its depiction of both the central aristocratic family and the outrageously oversized cherry orchard. But it was also praised as one of Chekhov's best works, and possibly his best play. The Russian Symbolist poets saw the play as a narrative poem mourning the loss of beauty in the world, and thus saw Chekhov as a kindred spirit. The Bolsheviks would interpret the play as a harbinger of the 1917 revolution, because of Trofimov's speeches (many of which were censored by the Tsarist regime for the 1904 perfomance). Many noticed and applauded its new formal innovations in terms of the use of the empty stage, lost dialogue and its mixing of comic and tragic elements. But many saw the play as undeniably tragic, focusing on Ranevsky's downfall as the important element of the story.

Chekhov's critical reception outside of Russia was mixed, partly due to translation problems and the play's unique "Russian-ness", which Chekhov himself foresaw as being impossible for any foreign audience to overcome. Many foreign readers and viewers faulted the play for being unheroic, negative, and devoid of plot. But no less a figure than George Bernard Shaw said that "hearing Chekhov's plays make me want to tear up my own", and Chekhov's drama has gained increasing acceptance and praise over the course of the last century. Chekhov managed to attend The Cherry Orchard's opening night gala at the Moscow Arts Theatre on January 17th, 1904, his forty-fourth birthday. The night was also intended to celebrate his 25th year in literature; but the sight of the ill, dying Chekhov, now in the last stages of his disease, was not a cause for celebration. He remained in Moscow for the last few months of his life, finally succumbing to tuberculosis on July 1st of that same year, a few days after the The Cherry Orchard's first publication
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PLOT

The plot centers on the sale of the cherry orchard, Lyobov's childhood home. At the beginning of the play, the widowed Lyobov has just returned home to Russia after a long stay in Paris, where her lover resides. She and her brother, Gaev, fight unsuccessfully to save the orchard, for they do not have adequate funds to retain it.

The development of the plot is fairly straightforward and simple. Lyobov and her youngest daughter, Anya, arrive at the orchard in the first act and reunite with Lyobov's older daughter, Varya, who has cared for the house in her mother's absence. To celebrate their return, they hold a grand party, where all of the characters are introduced. In the second act, Lopahin, a local merchant, gives Lyobov ideas about how she might save the orchard; he feels the best idea would be for her to lease the estate to a foreigner. Lyobov, however, cannot accept the new way and refuses to think about a foreigner living in her childhood home. Her refusal to change will lead to the loss of the orchard.

The romantic subplots also begin to develop in the second act. Trofimov, a perpetual student, is obviously attracted to Anya, who thinks of him only as a friend. Varya is attracted to Lopahin, but he seems reticent to develop the relationship. Lyobov keeps receiving telegrams from her lover pleading with her to come back to Paris, for he is ill and needs her help. Finally, Yasha, the valet, is having an affair with Dunyasha.

In the third act, it is learned that Lyobov's efforts to save the orchard have been unsuccessful. Although she hold a dance at the house, an auction to sell the orchard is being conducted at the same time. The play reaches its climax here, when Lopahin informs Lyobov that he has bought the orchard, which shocks and upsets Lyobov. She finds it hard to believe that a former slave has purchased her childhood home.

Since she no longer has a home in Russia, Lyobov plans to go back to Paris to take care of her lover. Anya will travel with her, and Trofimov will return to study at the university; the two of them agree to remain friends. The relationship between Varya and Lopahin has not progressed to the point of a proposal, and at the end of the play, Lopahin is leaving for a few months. Only Firs is left behind to care for the estate in the house.
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THEMES


Indirect Action
Indirect Action is a technique Chekhov was most famous for. It involves action important to the play's plot occurring off-stage, not on. Instead of seeing such action happen, the audience learns about it by watching characters react to it onstage. Lopakhin's speech at the end of Act III, recounting the sale of the cherry orchard, is the most important example of indirect action in the play: although the audience does not see the sale, the entire play revolves around this unseen action.

Mixing of Genres
Traditionally, humor and tragedy have been kept separate in dramatic works. Although Chekhov is certainly not the first playwright to mix comic and tragic elements onstage, he develops this tendency by creating a play that defies classification as either one of these two dramatic genres. Works such as The Cherry Orchard, which cannot be subjected to the traditional standards of classification, have helped build new modern literary traditions through their innovation in genre.

Symbolism
There are many symbols in this play. The keys at Barbara's waist symbolize her practicality and her power. Gay's imaginary billiards game symbolizes his desire to escape. The cherry orchard symbolizes the old social order, the aristocratic home, and its destruction symbolizes change. Firs himself is a figure of time; Anya is a figure of hope. The symbols in this play are too numerous to count, but many of them hinge on the idea of the changing social order or the specific circumstance of a given character.

Irony and Blindness
Irony appears in many instances throughout the play, and when it is not used for purely comic effect, it is tightly bound to the theme of blindness. On the one hand, the positions of the character's themselves are ironic. For example, the opposite circumstances of Lopakhin, Firs, and Dunyasha point out the irony in the now supposedly free-moving class system; characters talk about and praise a system of economic mobility. Still, they cannot see the contradiction in the situations of those around them that have no opportunity to improve their standing or are criticized for attempting to do so. In other cases, the play erects ironic moments, where the power in a given scene comes from a combination of two different images. For example, in Act II, Madame Ranevsky complains loudly about how she cannot control her money, while in the same breath she allows Yasha, the most untrustworthy character, to pick up her spilled purse. The fact that she is able to talk about her weakness and neglect the safety of her money in the same breath indicates that, despite her complaints, she is still blind to much of her problem.

Social Change and Progress
Several characters address the potential difference between social change and social progress. Firs and Trophimof are two of them. Both question the utility of the Liberation. As Firs notes, it made everyone happy, but they did not know what they were happy for. Firs himself is living proof of this discrepancy: society has changed, but his life, and the lives of countless others, have not progressed. Both characters insinuate that the Liberation is not enough to constitute progress; while it was a necessary change, it was not enough to bring mankind to the idealized future Trophimof imagines. The play leaves the impression that while change has come, there is more work to be done.

Independence, Liberation, and Freedom
This play deals with the theme of independence in many different ways. Fundamentally, it demands that we ask what it is to be free. What with the Liberation, The Cherry Orchard deals with independence in a very concrete way: shortly before the beginning of the play, much of Russia's population was not free. The play's characters demonstrate the different degrees of freedom that result from the Liberation. On opposing ends of this question are Lopakhin and Firs. One man has been able to take advantage of his liberation to make himself independent; the other, although he is technically free, has not changed his position at all and is subject to the whims of the family he serves, as he has always been. The difference in their situation demonstrates the observations of many Russians of the time: officially liberating a group of people is not they same as making them free if you do not also equip them with the tools they need to become independent, i.e, resources such as education and land.

Trophimof, the play's idealist, offers one definition of freedom for the audience to consider when he declines Lopakhin's offer of money. According to Trophimof, he is a free man because he is beholden to no one and nothing more than his own concept of morality. His observations seem accurate in light of other forms of non-freedom in the play. Madame Ranevsky, for example, is not free in a very different way from Firs. She has enough assets to be able to control her own destiny, but she is a slave to her passions, spending extravagantly and making poor decisions in romance, and therefore cannot follow a higher moral code as Trophimof does. What with the combination of economic circumstances and the bizarre weaknesses of the characters, the play therefore suggests that there are two sources which control freedom and the lack thereof: economics, which comes from without, and control over oneself, which comes from within.

Inevitability of change
The major theme is the inevitability of change. Because of her financial situation as a widow, Lyobov cannot save the cherry orchard, her childhood home. Ironically, when the estate is auctioned, it is purchased by Lopahin. He used to be a slave at the orchard, but after he won his freedom, he became a successful merchant, who could afford to purchase the estate. Symbolically, the sale of the cherry orchard shows that the old order must give way to the new.

Love
Love is another theme that is woven throughout the play. Besides the romance of Lyobov and her lover in Paris, Varya becomes interested in Lopahin, and Trofimov is attracted to Anya. In addition, there is the affair between Yasha and Dunyasha. None of the romantic relationships really comes to a happy ending. Lyobov's lover grows gravely ill in Paris, and she returns to care for him. Anya only wants to be friends with Trofimov, so he returns to study at the university. Lopahin is going away on business for several months without ever asking Varya to marry him.

The Struggle Over Memory
In The Cherry Orchard, memory is seen both as source of personal identity and as a burden preventing the attainment of happiness. Each character is involved in a struggle to remember, but more importantly in a struggle to forget, certain aspects of their past. Ranevsky wants to seek refuge in the past from the despair of her present life; she wants to remember the past and forget the present. But the estate itself contains awful memories of the death of her son, memories she is reminded of as soon as she arrives and sees Trofimov, her son's tutor. For Lopakhin, memories are oppressive, for they are memories of a brutal, uncultured peasant upbringing. They conflict with his identity as a well-heeled businessman that he tries to cultivate with his fancy clothes and his allusions to Shakespeare, so they are a source of self-doubt and confusion; it is these memories that he wishes to forget. Trofimov is concerned more with Russia's historical memory of its past, a past which he views as oppressive and needing an explicit renunciation if Russia is to move forward. He elucidates this view in a series of speeches at the end of Act Two. What Trofimov wishes Russia to forget are the beautiful and redeeming aspects of that past. Firs, finally, lives solely in memory—most of his speeches in the play relate to what life was like before the serfs were freed, telling of the recipe for making cherry jam, which now even he can't remember. At the end of the play, he is literally forgotten by the other characters, symbolizing the "forgotten" era with which he is so strongly associated.

Modernity Vs. the Old Russia
A recurrent theme throughout Russian literature of the nineteenth century is the clash between the values of modernity and the values of old Russia. Modernity is here meant to signify Western modernity, its rationalism, secularism and materialism. Russia, especially its nobility, had been adopting these values since the early eighteenth century, in the time of Peter the Great. But much of late nineteenth-century Russian literature was written in reaction to this change, and in praise of an idealized vision of Russia's history and folklore. Western values are often represented as false, pretentious, and spiritually and morally bankrupt. Russian culture by contrast—for example, in the character of Prince Myshkin in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, himself a representative of the old landowning nobility, or Tatyana in Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin—is exalted as honest and morally pure.

The conflict between Gayev and Ranevsky on the one hand and Lopakhin and Trofimov on the other can be seen as emblematic of the disputes between the old feudal order and Westernization. The conflict is made most explicit in the speeches of Trofimov, who views Russia's historical legacy as an oppressive one, something to be abandoned instead of exalted, and proposes an ideology that is distinctly influenced by the Western ideas such as Marxism and Darwinism.
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MOTIFS

Nature
Nature, as represented by the orchard has significant value in The Cherry Orchard, both as something of inherent beauty and as a connection with the past. Ranevsky is overjoyed in the presence of the cherry orchard, and even Lopakhin, who destroys it, calls it the "most beautiful place on earth". And though he doesn't save the orchard, he talks with joy about 3,000 acres of poppies he has planted and looks forward to a time when his cottage-owners will enjoy summer evenings on their verandahs, perhaps planting and beautifying their properties.

Nature is also seen as a source of both illusion and memory in this play. For example, Ranevsky's illusory sighting of her dead mother in Act One. In Nature, Gayev sees "eternity", a medium that joins together the past and present with its permanence. But the orchard is being destroyed, the idyllic countryside has telegraph poles running through it, and Ranevksy and Gayev's idyllic stroll through the countryside is interrupted by the intrusion of a drunkard. In fact, it is the very permanence ascribed to Nature that, through the play, is revealed to be an illusion.

The Union of Naturalism and Symbolism
The Cherry Orchard is on one level, a naturalistic play because it focuses on scientific, objective, details. It thus is like realism, in that it attempts to portray life "as it really is". Of course, these details are selected, sketched and presented in a certain way, guided by the author's intent. It is not actually science we are dealing with here. But throughout his career, Chekhov frequently stated his goal as an artist to present situations as they actually were, and not to prescribe solutions. And this is revealed in the way Chekhov's selection and presentation of details. Whenever we feel a desire to overly sympathize with one character, whenever we feel a desire to enter the play, so to speak, and take up their side (and their perspective), Chekhov shows us the irony in it-for example, when Lopakhin, when Lopakhin gloats about how far he has come from his brutal peasant origins, he does it in a brutal manner, thus betraying those origins. Chekhov's irony takes us out of the play and put back in our seats. This is how he creates his "objectivity".
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SYMBOLS

The Cherry Orchard
The orchard is the massive, hulking presence at the play's center of gravity; everything else revolves around and is drawn towards it. It is gargantuan; Lopakhin implies in Act One that the Lopakhin's estate spreads over 2,500 acres, and the cherry orchard is supposed to cover most of this. There were never any cherry orchards of nearly this size in Russia. And the fact that an orchard of this gargantuan size, which, by the estimate of Donald Rayfield, would produce more than four million pounds of cherries each crop, cannot economically sustain Ranevksy is an absurdity.

But it is absurd for a reason. After all, the orchard used to produce a crop every year, which was made into cherry jam. But, as Firs informs us, now the recipe has been lost. It is thus a relic of the past, an artifact, of no present use to anyone except as a memorial to or symbol of the time in which it was useful. And its unrealistic size further indicates that it is purely a symbol of that past. In a very real sense, the orchard does not exist in the present. It is something that is perceived by the various characters and reacted to in ways that indicate how these characters feel about what the orchard represents: which is some aspect of memory.

What "memory" means for each character and what it represents varies. Each character sees-sometimes literally—a different aspect of the past, either personal or historical, in the orchard. Ranevksy, for example, perceives her dead mother walking through the orchard in Act One; for her, the orchard is a personal relic of her idyllic childhood. Trofimov, on the other hand, near the end of Act Two sees in the orchard the faces of the serfs who lived and died in slavery on Ranevsky's estate; for him, the orchard represents the memory of their suffering . For Lopakhin, the orchard is intimately tied to his personal memories of a brutal childhood, as well as presenting an obstacle to the prosperity of both himself and Ranevsky.

Though each character has their own perspective, there is a rough division between the old and the young, with the age cut-off being between Lopakhin and Ranevksy; the young tend to view the orchard in a negative light and the old view it more positively. This further reinforces the orchard's symbolic identification with the past. The one exception to this may be Varya. But this exception proves the rule, for though Varya often talks about the estate, she never mentions the orchard itself at all. For her, it is irrelevant, and the estate is what is important, for she is its manager, and its ownership is directly connected to her livelihood.

Breaking String
No one knows what it is when we first hear it in Act Two, and when we last hear it, the only character onstage is in no position to comment. It is the sound of breaking string, an auditory symbol of forgetting. It first is heard in the play after Gayev gives a soliloquoy on the eternity of nature; Firs tells us it was heard before, around the time the serfs were freed (a seminal event in Russian history). It is last heard just as Firs, the old manservant who functions as the play's human connection to the past, passes away, and is juxtaposed against the sound of an axe striking a cherry tree. With its simple image of breaking line, the sound serves to unify the play's social allegory with its examination of memory, providing a more graphic counterpart to the Cherry Orchard's hovering, off-stage presence.
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GENRE-BENDING

The following genres have all had The Cherry Orchard ascribed to them by some influential critic or playwright: Comedy, Drama, Tragedy, pastoral comedy, "Chekhovian comedy." The last genre was created specifically for the play, by Donald R. Styran; the term "pastoral" is a literary term usually denoting poems that are about shepherds, but according to Beverly Hahn, a "pastoral comedy" is the closest fit in terms of genre that The Cherry Orchard can manage. The first genre on the list is what Chekhov himself considered the play to be, as reflected in the play's subtitle: A Comedy in Four Acts. But Stanislavksy, the great director of the Moscow Arts Performing Theatre where the play was first produced, disagreed. He thought the play was a drama, and directed it as such. This annoyed Chekhov to no end. Especially irksome to the playwright was the way Stanislavsky stretched out the fourth Act to forty minutes in length, in order to heighten the emotional impact of Ranevsky's final departure. According to Chekhov, the Act should have lasted no more than twelve.

There is a fine line between pathos and comedy; as Richard Peace notes, they both involve the build-up and then release of emotional tension. The difference between is often dependent upon whether we closely sympathize with a given character's predicament or whether we maintain a certain distance from that predicament. The Cherry Orchard walks a fine line between the two. Where Chekhov may cross the line from comedy to pathos is in the amount of attention he gives to Ranevsky in terms of character development. She is, next to the orchard itself, the largest presence in the play, and thus draws the attention of readers. She is a sympathetic character, and furthermore is the one character who seems to escape the irony which distances us from the rest of the characters in the play. This has prompted some critics and readers have seen Ranevsky as a tragic hero. The play's structuring of time supports this interpretation, as well; it flows from the beginning towards a fixed end-point in the future; this fixed time frame is typical of tragedy.

Others, however, have taken Chekhov's side in the debate. And even though the subject matter of the play may appear serious, we can see that Chekhov mixes both comic elements and tragic elements in the play. First of all, though the end of the play is far from upbeat, the central character Ranevsky is alive, healthy, and perhaps better off than she was before, having the chance to leave her past behind her. Secondly, there is an element of vaudeville in the play; Yephikodov is a buffoon, and when Varya hitting Lopakhin is pure slapstick. Also, it must be noted much of the humor in The Cherry Orchard does not translate nearly as well as the symbolism. Russian culture, like any culture, has its own unique sense of humor; the challenge of translating Chekhov's jokes into the English idiom may be the main reason why there have been so many translations (90), not one of which has proven to be perfectly satisfactory. And no matter how good a translation is, it will never catch, for example, the pun on Yephikodov's words when he hands his bouquet of flowers to Dunyasha in Act One; he intends to say,"allow me to communicate to you," but the word he uses in the original Russian, prisovokupit, which is a little too close to sovokupit, which means "to copulate," especially when directed towards the woman he wants to marry.
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ANALYSIS


The Cherry Orchard focuses on the tensions of changing times. For example, the room in Act I is called a nursery, although it has held no baby for years, and this misnomer introduces a nostalgic atmosphere into Madame Ranevsky's house. This tension between what was and what is centers on different levels. One level, personal tragedy, is very specific, and the death of Madame Ranevsky's son Grisha five years before the start of the play is one example. On another level, the play centers on the complications with major changes in an entire society: the recent freedom of the serfs and the decaying power of the aristocracy are two more general aspects of Russian history which affect the play.

Lopakhin's first speech is important because it immediately introduces this theme of Russia's newfound class mobility. In 1861, the system of serfdom was ended in Russia, and although this event happened perhaps fifteen years before Act I, it drives the action of the play. Lopakhin himself points out the irony in the situation developing in Russia; Lopakhin, born a serf, is now a wealthy, well-dressed landowner, calling on his aristocratic neighbor, Madame Ranevsky, as an equal. Despite his financial success, he still refers to himself as "a peasant of the peasants," noting a difference between himself, a nouveau rich, and the aristocratic members of the upper class. This speech introduces an ambiguity in Lopakhin's character which can only be resolved in a performance of the play; it is unclear from the text alone whether Lopakhin feels love, respect, and gratitude towards Madame Ranevsky and her family, or whether he harbors some resentment towards this household that held his father and grandfather as slaves. All of the characters in the play possess a similar ambiguity, which can only be alleviated by a director's choice.

Not only are Lopakhin's intentions unclear from the text alone, but he interacts with the other characters in very complicated ways, due, in part, to his own change in class. Although Lopakhin revels in his own economic transformation, he chides Dunyasha for not remembering her place in society, acting too much like a lady when she is only a maid. The close chronology between these two moments at the very opening of the play creates a tension about class differences which pervades the entire play. Dunyasha and Lopakhin come from similar, lower class backgrounds; however, Lopakhin has been able to fulfill his aspirations and rise through the class system, while Dunyasha is still trying. Lopakhin can easily be portrayed as a hypocrite for moments like his criticism of Dunyasha.

Ephikhodof, the next character to enter, is something of a clown, and his entrances are sources of comedy. Although he is an extreme example, he is not unlike the rest of the characters in the play: they are all ridiculous in some way. Even Barbara, who seems so stern, can be portrayed as a parody. Her keys, for example, are often as enormous as they are loud, depending on the performance. These keys are attached to her throughout the play, and they are a symbol of her authority in the household; her practicality and her sense of duty are both her biggest strengths and her most ridiculous qualities. While the sight and sound of her keys are a symbol of her power, they are also an unwieldy and ridiculous object. Barbara and her keys stand in sharp contrast to the younger sister, Anya, one of the play's two idealists. Anya is a charismatic character because she is both capable of being appalled at her mother's extravagant spending, and capable of forgiving her every flaw. She may appear more comic in later acts, when she and Trophimof, the other idealist, voice their philosophies.

Anya's criticism of her mother's overspending in France is important because it is one of The Cherry Orchard's many examples of indirect action, a technique Chekhov is famous for. The action described in the speech has not taken place on the stage, and is therefore indirect; the play revolves around the character's on-stage reactions to such off-stage action, for although this sort of action is not seen, it actually drives the plot. Lopakhin's opening speech is another example of indirect action, which both informs the audience of the past and maneuvers the development of the action.

Firs is a highly symbolic character, for as the oldest character, he is a remnant of the past. He spent almost his entire life as a serf on the estate. Freedom has not changed his life as it has changed Lopakhin's; although neither is a serf now, Firs is old and has nowhere else to go, so he stays on in the household as he always has, while Lopakhin has become independent and wealthy. The two of them reflect two different sides of the Russian serfs' freedom; together on stage, they create rather a complete picture of the fate of the old serfs, while Madame Ranevsky and her brother Gayef illustrate the fate of the old aristocracy. Madame Ranevsky's often comically joyful tirades on her homeland and her family demonstrate that she is a woman of excess. This excessiveness is both her most charismatic trait and her greatest weakness; she too is a ridiculous character. The contrast in her reactions to seeing her furniture again and the reality of he acquaintances' deaths implies early on in the play that this woman is completely incapable of dealing with difficulty; she ignores problems and constantly exaggerates her abilities and her emotions to create a perfectly happy world for herself.

For Madame Ranevsky and Gayef, cutting the cherry orchard down is not an option: the estate is too important. Their inability to comprehend the sense of Lopakhin's lucrative suggestion implies that they are two characters of the old aristocracy who cannot change with the changing times. They do not understand that if they do not cut down the orchard, it will go to auction and whoever buys it will cut it down anyway. Pishtchik is another character who does not seem capable of adapting and saving himself. He feeds off of others; he knows Madame Ranevsky has her own financial problems, yet he insists on asking her for money, complimenting her and goading her until she agrees. Madame Ranevsky agrees because of her own fundamental flaw, her excessiveness; she continues to live the life of a wealthy woman even as her assets dwindle. Even Gayef, the bumbling social idiot, can criticize her for this behavior, although he is too weak to stop her. Yasha is similar to Pishtchik in the way he feeds off Madame Ranevsky. His behavior with regards to his mother demonstrates his own flaw as a character. He has not seen his mother for five years, and he is more concerned with himself and impressing the family he serves than he is with visiting his own mother. Although he and Pishtchik both have charismatic moments on stage, they are both fundamentally parasites who frequent the cherry orchard for the purpose of benefiting from Madame Ranevsky's weak control of her purse.

Charlotte and Trophimof are the two final characters who appear onstage in this act. Each appears only briefly. They are both outsiders, and it is therefore appropriate they neither is fully integrated into the action until a later act.



Act I is thematically occupied with the development of different characters' strengths and weaknesses. These themes are demonstrated again during Act II, but the central issue in Act II is the development of the play's views on Russian history, social and economic change, and the concept of progress.

These ideas of social change are demonstrated in the personalities and actions of the characters. For example, the moment when Madam Ranevsky drops her purse is a symbolic one. She is talking to herself, complaining that she spends more than she should, when she drops her purse and spills her money. This action is an accident, yet it differs very slightly from the way she behaves in general. She complains that she does not have enough money to pay her own mortgage. Then, moments later, she gives Pishtchik money for his mortgage. She laments that there is barely enough for the servants of the household to eat, and then dines at restaurants and tips the waiters in gold. Her words suggest that she wants to save her money, but her actions always betray a tendency to the opposite. She is careless with her purse, whether she is dropping her money deliberately or not. After she drops it in the garden, Yasha scurries to her side to help her collect the coins; this picture continues the symbolism established at the beginning of this sequence. Although Yasha is only helping his employer to collect what she has dropped, his eagerness to help with this particular task parallels the way in which he shadows Madame Ranevsky so that he might benefit personally from her own excessive tendencies with her purse.

Another thematically loaded moment in Act II immediately follows the incident of the spilled coins; Lopakhin tries to persuade Madame Ranevsky and Gayef to sell their property as villas, and they will have none of it. The siblings hesitate for two reasons. In Act I, they explained that their estate and cherry orchard are too important to be torn down; at this moment, in Act II, they condemn the idea of dealing with villa residents as "vulgar." This exchange between the decaying aristocratic family and Lopakhin, the wealthy former serf, illustrates many of the important social issues at work in the play. Now that the serfs have been freed, the older upper class no longer has an economic position with such long-term security. However, Madame Ranevsky and Gayef appear incapable of taking any economic threat seriously. It is interesting that the prospect of having villa residents is so distasteful to them. Villa residents would not come from old money, as Madame Ranevsky and Gayef do, but would rather come from the nouveau rich created by the rearrangement of the Russian classes. Madame Ranevsky and Gayefs' resistance to Lopakhin's suggestions therefore illustrates their inability to adapt to their changing society; they continue to think themselves somehow above their problems and above having to depend on people from common families. The intrigue of the play revolves around whether or not they can overcome this current blindness to their necessity to adapt.

Firs addresses this same issue in his entrance; he recalls the happiness of the serfs immediately following the Liberation, but laments that they did not understand why they should be happy. At least before the Liberation, Russia was an ordered society. Although the Liberation created a more fair class system, it did not necessarily improve the lives of individuals or create a stronger country. Firs' choice to remain with Madame Ranevsky and Gayef, despite his freedom, demonstrates the same reservations about social change that they have, but from a different class perspective.

Trophimof has a much stronger presence in this act, and his philosophical remarks further meshes out the ideology of the play. Trophimof is the only character in the play who consistently speaks words of wisdom. The tensions he meshes out in his own views of Russian society may represent the thesis of the play as a whole, as many of the details he points out are directly dealt with in the action. Through his final discussion on the cherry orchard, Trophimof contrasts the idea of change with the idea of progress. While he is apparently in favor of the freedom of the serfs, he also does not consider the Liberation as a source of positive social change. He is optimistic, in that he hopes Russia and humanity will correct their shortcomings in the future, but he is also realistic, in that he views the Liberation as necessary change, but not sufficient.



Act III is full of juxtapositions. In this act, not only do characters' class and social differences come out, but the way in which they interact in various moments emphasizes both the extreme differences between their personalities, and the similarities. Paradoxically, it is these exaggerated distinctions between these characters that create an awareness of some quality that unites them all.

The characters in this play are all remarkably distinct from one another on a individual level, but in a greater sense, they are similar because they all possess a tendency towards excess. For example, in the scene where Madame Ranevsky and Trophimof discuss their involvement with love, Trophimof asserts that he and Anya are "above love," to which Madame Ranevsky responds that she must be "beneath love." This moment is ironic because it emphasizes the differences between these two characters. On the one hand, Trophimof has found a lovely young woman with whom he shares certain chemistry. However, he and Anya are intellectual idealists, and they will part from each other at the end of the play forever, without having taken advantage of any opportunity they might have had together. On the other hand, Madame Ranevsky is fleeing to Russia from her cheating, abusive lover. She, however, is a woman controlled too much by her passions and not enough by her intellect, and at the end of the play she will return to the side of this monster who has so mistreated her. Trophimof and Madame Ranevsky have opposite problems when one considers the details of their situations, but in terms of the end of the play as a whole, they are in the same position: they each had a good opportunity, but by being so much themselves, they have managed to lose it.

Act III also contains the pivotal moment of the play's action: the sale of the cherry orchard, bought by none other than Lopakhin himself. This moment brings together many of the central ideas in the play. In the first place, it is the most beautiful example of indirect action, the technique which Chekhov is famous for, in the entire play. The sale of the cherry orchard takes place offstage, far away, yet its expected fruition completely drives the action of the plot. Moreover, this moment, which occurs offstage, provides the most dramatic of all moments on-stage, teaching us that visual action is superfluous, and indeed, unnecessary, next to the reactions of finely sculpted characters.

This scene is a moving account of the social change occurring in Russia; Lopakhin is now the owner of the estate where his father and grandfather were serfs, and Madame Ranevsky is homeless. This moment is full of the most powerful irony in the entire play, as the roles of the two main characters have been completely reversed from the beginning of their history to this moment. Theirs is the most extreme example of the changes in class which effect each character in the play.

In addition to being the most important moment in the play in this respect, this scene also has the potential to be the most important moment in terms of the development of Lopakhin and Madame Ranevsky as characters. Lopakhin is both triumphant and tactless; Madame Ranevsky is naïve and devastated. This dual aspect of the scene exits in the text, and it can be either emphasized or done away with, depending on the performance of the play. In any interpretation of the play, however, this interpretation of this scene must control the characters' identities from the beginning of a performance, and even still there are endless possibilities. Whether Lopakhin comes off as vindictive or as lovable throughout the play, this speech can be either the moment where the audience most identifies with him and feels his triumph, or most resents him for his lack of tact. By the same token, whether Madame Ranevsky is charmingly innocent or annoyingly naïve throughout the first two acts, at this moment, the audience sees her at her weakest; we may see her as a fool who acted too late or as a poor abused woman, beaten down by misfortune.

These moments of irony and symbolism are the fabric of the entire play, not only Act III. Part of the richness of the play depends on the variety of interpretations it supports. However, in choosing one's own interpretation, the reader should bear in mind that Chekhov was disappointed when his play was performed as a tragedy; the fact that the play may contain various moral lessons should in no way undermine the light-hearted, comic moments which pervade the entire play and are just as important to its substance.



Act IV is an act when many of the play's loose ends come together. At the same time, the end of the play also remains ambiguous, and a performance may choose to either alleviate or preserve some of the loose ends that the text does not provide definite answers to.

Act IV is an act when many characters are most themselves. Lopakhin and Trophimof, for example, share a stunning good-bye. They are fond of each other, and they each make a gesture towards one another which acts as a sign of their respect for one another. Their gestures, however, differentiate in such a way that they are complete and true expressions of each man's own personality. Trophimof, for example, analyzes Lopakhin and gives him advice. This sort of mental exercise is what Trophimof, the philosophical idealist, does best, and although his words are somewhat critical, they are also well-meaning. Lopakhin, true to his recent success and consequent sense for the financial, offers Trophimof a small sum of money as a parting gift. He takes care to explain that he offers the money not out of pity, but out of respect, because he understands how inconsequential ideas of loss can be. They each offer the other the best thing they have that the other can find useful: Trophimof offers wisdom, and Lopakhin offers free money. We cannot quite know if Lopakhin follows Trophimof's advice, but we do know that Trophimof is too philosophical to accept Lopakhin's money. In this sense, their gestures are somewhat stunted, yet the scene remains extremely tender nonetheless, optimistically demonstrating that such different individuals have more in common than one would expect at the beginning of the play.

Although Lopakhin and Trophimof part so gracefully, not all of the characters' final appearances inspire optimism. While things are looking up for Pishtchik and Anya radiates hope, Charlotte forces the audience to remember that this final parting of ways is not joyous for everyone. The loss of the cherry orchard does not only affect Madame Ranevsky; as a result of the sale, Charlotte finds herself unemployed, with an uncertain future. Ephikhodof, Barbara, and Gayef have new jobs, and self-centered Yasha is allowed to travel with Madame Ranevsky, but loyal Firs is left behind altogether, and Barbara's hopes for romance with Lopakhin are dashed. In this way, the ending of the play is mixed, for while some see great opportunities ahead, other characters suffer great losses.

When Madame Ranevsky and her brother leave their family home for the final time, there is a sense that they have come to peace with the loss of the estate. The two of them look forward to the future, and their enthusiasm is contagious even if the audience doubts their abilities. It is another character, a much more minor character, who provides perhaps the most symbolic moment to Act IV: Firs. Act IV ends with Firs unmoving and unconscious, perhaps dead, forgotten, locked in the house where he was born a serf. In some ways it does not even matter whether or not he is dead: he might as well be. His position at the end of the play is symbolic ad can be read as a metaphor for the passing of the old order in Russia. This man was born a serf, and although he lived through the Liberation, he chose to maintain his position in the household because he had no other opportunities. Liberation was meaningless to him, and he stayed loyal to the family his whole life. The family, however, did not stay loyal to him; for all his service, no one could even be bothered to confirm whether this sick old man had been sent to the hospital, properly cared for. This negligence provides an extremely sharp criticism of the other characters' priorities: themselves. The fact that Firs has been forgotten demonstrates a lack of respect to Firs as a person, to his long service with the family, and to all the serfs that the Russia of Chekhov's day would not be held responsible for.

It is unclear whether or not Firs has died in the final scene, and while this neglect seems cold, it is not entirely pessimistic. Firs dies symbolically, and his immobility in the last scene indicates the passing of the old order. The class system, after so much upheaval, begins to settle down again with the passing of time, the deaths of the former serfs, and the integration of their children into society. Firs' presumable death is the last phase in a long process of change, beginning with former serfs like Lopakhin gaining power, the aristocracy losing power, and ending with the deaths of those who continued to live by the old system. In some ways, The Cherry Orchard describes nothing more than the growing pains of a society, and the fact that the play ends with a potential death should not be used to label the play a tragedy. The play describes the cycle of life, and it is important that we do not know for certain whether these characters will succeed or fail, live or die, because such an ending would rob the play of its greatest asset: its infinite possibilities. It is the play's ambiguity that provides so many interpretations and so many morals to so many different people.
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CONFLICT

Protagonist
Madame Lyobov Ranevsky, the protagonist of The Cherry Orchard, has been having an affair with a man in Paris. When the play begins, she has just returned from Paris to Russia after an absence of five years. Out of money, she has come home to face the fact that she must probably sell the cherry orchard, to which she is much attached. She is grieved that the orchard is to be sold at auction.

Antagonist
Madame Ranevsky's antagonist is selling the cherry orchard. Although she would love to retain the orchard, which was her childhood home, she is deeply in debt and can no longer afford to maintain it. Both she and her brother try to raise money from a variety of sources, but they fail miserably. In the end, the orchard is auctioned and bought by Lopahin; with no place to live in Russia, Lyobov returns to Paris to take care of her lover, who is very ill.

Climax
Throughout the first two acts, the audience is made to wonder if the Cherry Orchard will be sold, and if so, to whom. The climax of the play occurs when it is announced that Lopahin, a former slave, has purchased the orchard.

Outcome
The play is a tragedy, for Lyobov loses her beloved childhood home, the cherry orchard. She weeps when she learns it has been sold and weeps when she must finally leave.

MOOD
The main mood of the play is largely melancholic as Lyobov struggles unsuccessfully to save the cherry orchard. When she winds up losing her childhood home to a former slave at the orchard, she has a great sense of loss. There are, however, moments of happiness in the play, especially when Lyobov rejoices to be home and throws a grand party.
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