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The Cherry Orchard
By Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Setting
Characters
What Was a Serf?
Plot Summary
Themes
Climax
Conflict
Satire
Symbols
Irony
Foreshadowing
Allusions and Terms
Questions, Essay Topics
Biography of Chekhov
Complete Free Text
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
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Type of Work, Style, and Publication Year

.......The Cherry Orchard is a stage play with elements of comedy and tragedy. One may wish to call it a tragicomedy, although Anton Chekhov himself categorized it as a comedy. The plot is uncomplicated; the style is simple and straightforward. Chekhov effectively uses trivial circumstances and humdrum activities to shape his themes.
.......After Chekhov completed the play in 1903, he debuted it on January 17, 1904, at the Moscow Art Theater under the direction of Konstanin Stanislavsky (1863-1938). Chekhov's wife, Olga (1868-1959), played the lead role (Madame Ranevsky). Scribner's published an English translation of the play by Julius West in New York in 1917. The plot summary on this page follows West's translation.

Setting

.......The action takes place between May and October at a rural estate in Russia three to four decades after Czar Alexander II freed the serfs in 1861. It is a time of revolutionary change, when nineteenth-century values and traditions are yielding to a new way of life in which the upper classes are losing their power and prestige and the lower classes are taking advantaging of opportunities previously denied to them.

Characters

Lubov Andreyevna Ranevsky: Owner of an estate with a famous and highly prized cherry orchard.
Anya: Ranevsky's daughter, who is seventeen. 
Varya: Ranevsky's adopted daughter, who is twenty-seven. She is also called Barbara Mihailovna. 
Leonid Andreyevitch Gaev: Madame Ranevsky's unmarried brother.
Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin: Wealthy merchant. His father was a serf.
Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov: Free-spirited student. 
Boris Borisovitch Simeonov-Pischin: A landowner. 
Charlotta Ivanovna: Anya's governess. 
Dunyasha (Avdotya Fedorovna): A maidservant. 
Simeon Panteleyevitch Epikhodov: A clerk (bookkeeper) at the Ranevsky estate. He proposes to Dunyasha.
Fiers: Servant and former serf. He is eighty-seven. 
Yasha: Young servant.
Drunken Tramp
The Countess: Aunt of Gaev and Ranevsky.
Stationmaster
Postal Clerk
Guests
Gardener
Egor: A servant.
Deriganov: Wealthy man who bids on the Ranevsky's estate.
Theodore Kozoyedov: Dunyasha's father.
Ragulins: Family that hires Varya as a housekeeper.
Dashenka: Daughter of Simeonov-Pischin.

What Was a Serf?

.......In nineteenth-century Russia, a serf was a peasant laborer attached to a landowner. In effect, a serf was a slave. 

Plot Summary

.......Dawn is breaking on a chilly morning in May at a Russian country estate where the trees of a cherry orchard are in bloom. There is a frost. The owner of the estate is the widowed Madame Lubov Andreyevna Ranevsky. After her husband drank himself to death six years before, her seven-year-old child, Grisha, drowned. Distraught, Ranevsky ran off to France with a lover. When he became ill at Mentone (also called Menton, a resort on the French Riviera), she bought a villa there to attend him during his convalescence. But he took advantage of her and drained her financial resources. After she sold her villa to pay her debts, she moved to Paris. There, he abused her, took more of her money, and left her for another woman. Now, after five years abroad, she is on a train pulling into the railroad station near her Russian estate. With her are her daughter Anya, seventeen, and Anya's governess, Charlotta, along with a young servant, Yasha. 
.......At the Ranevsky estate, an eighty-seven-year-old servant, Fiers, prepares Ranevsky's house for her return. Until middle age, Fiers was a serf. After Czar Alexander II's Edict of Emancipation freed the serfs in 1861, Fiers chose to remain with the estate, performing the same duties that occupied him when he was in bondage. 
.......In a room once used as a nursery, Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant, tells a maidservant, Dunyasha, “I have made a rotten mess of it! I came here on purpose to meet them at the station, and then overslept myself." 
.......Lopakhin remembers Ranevsky as a kindly woman from his days when he lived on the estate as the son of a serf. In particular, he recalls the day when his father punched him in the nose. Ranevsky took the time to comfort him, saying, “Don't cry little man.” 
.......Dunyasha is nervous about the arrival of the travelers. She thinks she might faint. Dunyasha is not dressed like a servant but like a refined lady. Lopakhin reminds her that she is just a menial, saying, "You should know our place." 
.......Simeon Panteleyevitch Epikhodov enters with a bouquet of flowers. He drops the bouquet, then picks it up. He says it is from the gardener, noting that it is to be placed in the dining room. When Dunyasha goes out to get some kvass for Lopakhin, Epikhodov complains that his boots, highly polished, squeak and asks Lopakhin what he can do to get rid of the annoying sound. Lopakhin simply tells him to go away because he is a bore. Dunyasha brings in the kvass. Epikhodov, who is accident prone, leaves the room, knocking over a chair. Dunyasha tells Lopakhin that Epikhodov has asked her to marry him. She does not know what to do, although she thinks he is a nice man.

Ranevsky Arrives

.......When Lopakhin hears the approach of carriages, he goes out with Dunyasha to welcome Ranevsky and the others. A few moments later, Ranevsky enters the house with Anya, Yasha, and Charlotta, who has Anya's dog. Accompanying them are the welcomers: Lopakhin; Ranevsky's older brother, Leonid Andreyevitch Gaev; Boris Borisovitch Simeonov-Pischin, a landowner; Varya, Madame Ranevsky's adopted daughter; and Dunyasha, who is carrying an umbrella and a parcel. Varya has been managing the estate in Ranevsky's absence.
.......Ranevsky and Anya browse and comment on what they see. When they enter the old nursery, Ranevsky, in tears, says, “I used to sleep here when I was a baby. And here I am like a little girl again.” She kisses Leonid, Varya, and Dunyasha, and everyone leaves the room except Dunyasha and Anya. Overjoyed at seeing Anya, Dunyasha addresses her as “my pet” and discloses the news that Epikhodov has proposed to her, saying she doesn't know “what to think about it.” Anya does not respond to her comment. Instead, she looks into her room, adjacent to the nursery, observing that it appears as it did five years before. When Dunyasha tells Anya that her friend Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov, a “perpetual” student, is in the bathhouse, still sleeping, Anya is very pleased. 
.......Varya returns to the nursery and sends Dunyasha to get a pot to make coffee for Ranevsky. Varya and Anya then chat. Anya tells her about Paris and the men and women who would visit Madame Ranevsky. Anya reports that her mother has sold her villa at Mentone and has no money left. When Anya asks about the financial condition of the estate, Varya has bad news: It, too, must be sold. Then Anya asks whether Lopakhin has proposed to Varya. She says no, adding that he pays little attention to her and that nothing will come of their relationship. Anya goes into her room, followed by Varya, who stands at the door. 
.......After Dunyasha returns with the pot and begins to make coffee, Yasha crosses the room with a traveling bag and shawl. 
.......“I hardly knew you, Yasha, says Dunyasha. “You have changed abroad.” 
.......He does not recognize her at first. When she tells him that she is the daughter of Theodore Kozoyedov, he embraces her and she drops and breaks a saucer. Anya comes back into the nursery and says thoughtfully, “Father died six years ago, and a month later my brother Grisha was drowned in the river—such a dear little boy of seven! Mother couldn't bear it; she went away, away, without looking round. . . . How I understand her; if only she knew! And Peter Trofimov was Grisha's tutor. . . .” 
.......Fiers enters and barks a command to Dunyasha to get cream for the coffee. She runs for it. Fiers fusses around the coffee pot, mumbling. When Varya asks him what he is saying, he expresses joy that Ranevsky has returned. “I've lived to see her!” he says. “Don't care if I die now.”
.......Ranevsky enters with Gaev, Lopakhin, and Simeonov-Pischin. Being in the nursery makes Gaev recall childhood days. 
.......“Once upon a time you and I used both to sleep in this room, and now I'm fifty-one,” he says to his sister. “It does seem strange” 
.......Anya announces she is going to bed and kisses her mother. Gaev and Lopakhin kiss her hand. Fiers brings coffee for Ranevsky and places a cushion under her feet. “Thank you, dear old man,” she says. “I'm so glad you're still with us.”
.......Lopakhin tells Ranevsky that Gaev thinks him a usurer and a snob. But, he says, “Let him talk.” However, he wishes she would “believe in me as you once did. My father was the serf of your grandfather and your own father, but you did so much for me once upon a time that I've forgotten everything and love you as if you belonged to my family . . . .”

Lopakhin Announces Plan

.......Ranevsky gets up and walks around to look at familiar objects such as her “dear little cupboard” and “little table.” Lopakhin has a train to catch, but before leaving he says he has news for Ranevsky that will lift her spirits. First, he says, her estate is due to be auctioned on August 22. However, he says, he has a plan to save the estate. 
.......“Your estate is only thirteen miles from the town, the railway runs by, and if the cherry orchard and the land by the river are broken up into building lots and are then leased off for villas you'll get at least twenty-five thousand roubles a year profit out of it.”
.......If she begins advertising immediately, he maintains, all the vacant lots will be leased by autumn. To prepare the land, however, she will have to demolish the house and other buildings and cut down the cherry orchard. Ranevsky balks at this proposition. 
.......“If there's anything interesting or remarkable in the whole province,” she says, “it's this cherry orchard of ours.”
.......If she does not approve his plan, Lopakhin says, the entire estate will go to the highest bidder on August 22. 
.......“In the old days, forty or fifty years back,” says Fiers, “they dried the cherries, soaked them and pickled them, and made jam of them . . . then sent the dried cherries off in carts to Moscow and Kharkov. And money! And the dried cherries were soft, juicy, sweet, and nicely scented. . . 
.......Lopakhin notes that country estates, or villas, are springing up around towns everywhere, for there are many people now eager to lease them.
.......Varya and Yasha come in. Varya unlocks a cupboard and takes from it two telegrams for Ranevsky from Paris. But she tears them up without reading them, saying, “I've done with Paris.” Lopakhin leaves, reminding Ranevsky to keep in mind his plan for villas.
.......After Lopakhin is gone, Gaev, says, “Snob. Still, I beg pardon. . . . Vary's going to marry him.”
.......Varya says Gaev talks too much, but Ranevsky says she would be happy to see Varya marry Lopakhin. Pischin says Lopakhin is a good man, then asks Ranevsky to lend him two hundred forty roubles so he can pay the interest on his mortgage. But Varya and Madame say they have not money to spare.
.......Varya opens a window, and Ranevsky and Gaev look out and admire the orchard and its flowers. Peter Trofimov comes in to welcome Ranevsky. He reminds her that he was once the tutor of Grisha. 
.......“My Grisha . . . my boy . . . my Grisha . . . my son,” she says.
......Pischin renews his plea for a loan, and Ranevsky gives in and tells Gaev to give it to him.
......Gaev muses about ways to raise money to save the estate, saying, “It would be nice to inherit a fortune from somebody, it would be nice to marry our Anya to a rich man, it would be nice to go to Yaroslav and try my luck with my aunt the Countess. My aunt is very, very rich.” The trouble is, though, that the countess does not like Madame Ranevsky because she did not marry a nobleman and because she behaves in a way contrary to the countess's standards. 
......Anya comes back into the nursery, saying she cannot sleep. Gaev talks more about schemes to raise money, and Anya says, “How good and clever you are, Uncle.”
The room clears after everyone goes to get some rest. 

Gather in a Field

......When the family members and their friends are together again, they are in a field with poplars, behind which are the cherry trees. Sitting on a garden bench are Charlotta, Yasha, and Dunyasha. Charlotta muses that she does not know her true identity, for her parents died when she was very young and a German woman reared her. She does recall, however, that her parents used to take her to fairs, where she performed the salto mortale. She says she likes to talk but never has anybody to talk to. 
......Epikhodov plays a guitar and sings. Then he stops and, speaking to Yasha, says he is educated but has no direction in life. Therefore, he says, he does not know whether he should live or die. Just in case he chooses dying, he says, he carries a revolver with him. He shows it to Yasha. Charlotta leaves, again bemoaning that she has no friends to talk to. She always feels alone, she says, adding "I don't know who I am or why I live."
......Epikhodov tells Dunyasha he wants to speak with her alone. She agrees to meet with him and tells him go inside and fetch her cloak, saying it is damp outside. After he leaves, Yasha kisses her, and she tells him she loves him. She regards him as superior to the bumbling Epikhodov. When Madame Ranevsky, Gaev, and Lopakhin approach, Dunyasha quickly kisses Yasha back, then runs off. A short while later, Yasha also leaves the scene.
......Lopakhin makes further efforts to persuade Ranevsky and Gaev to agree to his plan to construct and lease villas on the land. But Ranevsky continues to reject the plan, as does Gaev. Lopakhin, irked, walks away. But Ranevsky calls after him, begging him to stay. He remains. Then she says, "We have been too sinful." When Lopakhin asks what sins she has committed, she mentions her spendthrift ways and her decision to marry a man who turned out to be a good-for-nothing and "died of champagne." Another bad choice, she says, was to take up with a man who humiliated her in France, causing her to attempt suicide by poison.
......Later, a tipsy tramp wanders onto the grounds when Ranevsky, Lopakhin, Gaev, Varya, Anya, and Trofimov are conversing. Trofimov is railing against those who fail to work hard to achieve their goals and who treat peasants like animals. When the tramp asks for thirty copecks, Ranevsky gives him a gold coin. Varya chides her for providing the money at a time when “there's nothing for the servants to eat.” 
......After this incident, everyone goes inside except Anya and Trofimov. It is one of the few occasions that they can talk when no one else is around. Trofimov says, “Varya's afraid we may fall in love with each other and won't get away from us for days on end. Her narrow mind won't allow her to understand that we are above love. To escape all the petty and deceptive things which prevent our being happy and free, that is the aim and meaning of our lives.”Anya tells him that the cherry orchard does not mean as much to her as it used to. 
......“I thought there was no better place in the world than our orchard," she says.
......Trofimov then tells her that the orchard is a symbol of oppression inasmuch as it was the product of the serfs who were owned by “your grandfather, your great-grandfather, and all your ancestors.” 

Auction Day Arrives

......As the summer wears on, so do Ranevsky's financial woes. What is more, no one has taken any action to save the estate. When the day of the auction arrives, Ranevsky gives a party at which Charlotta performs magic tricks before the guests, including the postmaster and other local government officials. Lopakhin comes in from the auction and announces that he has bought the estate. The news appalls Ranevsky. Lopakhin, after all, was the son of a serf—a lowly peasant whom her family formerly owned.
......Soon after the auction, the house stands nearly empty: no curtains, no pictures on the walls. The house is now only an echo of what it used to be. Lopakhin hires 
Epikhodov to look after the estate while he carries out plans for conversion of it into a colony of villas. Varya, who worked hard to maintain and save the estate, takes a job as housekeeper to the Ragulin family. Gaev takes a job at a bank. Pischin comes by to see everyone. He announces that Englishmen have found white clay on his land and taken out a twenty-four-year lease. With his windfall, he immediately begins paying back what he owes. 
......Anya says, "Good-bye, home! Good-bye, old life!"
......And Trofimov says, "Welcome, new life."
......Ranevsky says, "My dead, my gentle, beautiful orchard! My life, my youth, my happiness, good-bye! Good-bye!"
......She has decided to return to Paris—to the man who took advantage of her. Anya will be accompanying her.
......Yasha was instructed to make arrangements for old Fiers, now drifting into senility, to go to a hospital. But Yasha simply passed the instructions to another servant, and they were never carried out. Consequently, when everyone leaves, no one realizes that Fiers is still in the house. He hears the turn of a key locking the door, then the rumble of carriages, and then the sound of an axe driving into a cherry tree.
......Fiers says, "It's locked. They've gone away. [Sits on a sofa] They've forgotten about me. . . . Never mind, I'll sit here. . . . Oh, these young people! [Mumbles something that cannot be understood] Life's gone on as if I'd never lived. [Lying down] I'll lie down. . . . You've no strength left in you, nothing left at all. . . ." 
......Fiers dies when an axe bites again into a cherry tree.

Themes

Effects of Change

.......The main theme of the play is how changes in Russian social, economic, and cultural life affect Madame Ranevsky and her daughters as well as her friends, her acquaintances, and the servants on her estate. Madame Ranevsky refuses to accept change, preferring instead to hold onto the pastor at least the remnants and memories of it. She even spends as she did when she had money, driving herself deeper and deeper into debt.
.......Gaev shares his sister's fondness for the aristocratic past, but in the end he yields to the reality of the present and takes a job at a bank. His decision to accept a position that he believes is below his social station no doubt resonates with elite modern workers forced by economic hard times to accept menial labor. 
.......Lopakhin embraces change, for it has allowed him to rise from poverty to wealth and the social power that goes with it. But he tends to focus so much on material gain that he ignores Varya. She loves him, and he is fond of her. In Act 3, Varya tells Ranevsky, 

I can't propose to him myself, little mother. People have been talking about him to me for two years now, but he either says nothing, or jokes about it. I understand. He's getting rich, he's busy, he can't bother about me. If I had some money, even a little, even only a hundred roubles, I'd throw up everything and go away. I'd go into a convent.
.......Others do not know how to respond to change. Epikhodov, for example, says to Yasha, "I'm an educated man, I read various remarkable books, but I cannot understand the direction I myself want to go—whether to live or to shoot myself, as it were. So, in case, I always carry a revolver about with me." Charlotta exists in a vacuum: "I don't know who I am or why I live." Old Fiers freezes time, choosing to live and work exactly as he did when he was a serf bound to the land. Trofimov condemns the oppressive days of serfdom and welcomes what lies ahead of him. He tells Anya,
All Russia is our orchard. The land is great and beautiful, there are many marvellous places in it. [Pause] Think, Anya, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, and all your ancestors were serf-owners, they owned living souls; and now, doesn't something human look at you from every cherry in the orchard, every leaf and every stalk? . . . [W]e've left those two hundred years behind us. So far we've gained nothing at all—we don't yet know what the past is to be to us—we only philosophize, we complain that we are dull, or we drink vodka. For it's so clear that in order to begin to live in the present we must first redeem the past, and that can only be done by suffering, by strenuous, uninterrupted labour. Understand that, Anya. (Act 2)
Anya responds positively to his viewpoint. Then he says,
I'm not thirty yet, I'm young, I'm still a student, but I have undergone a great deal! I'm as hungry as the winter, I'm ill, I'm shaken. I'm as poor as a beggar, and where haven't I been—fate has tossed me everywhere! But my soul is always my own; every minute of the day and the night it is filled with unspeakable presentiments. I know that happiness is coming, Anya, I see it already. . . . (Act 2)
Dunyasha's response to change is to try to look and act like a lady. Lopakhin, noticing this behavior in her, reminds her that she is maidservant, saying, "You dress just like a lady, and you do your hair like one too. You oughtn't. You should know your place" (Act 1). Then she tries to latch onto Yasha, viewing him as superior to the bumbling Epikhodov. But Yasha is a bad choice, for he is self-seeking and insensitive—perhaps not unlike the man waiting for Madame Ranevsky in Paris. When Ranevsky decides to return to Paris, Yasha chooses to go with her. Here is the parting conversation between Dunyasha and Yasha.
DUNYASHA. If you only looked at me once, Yasha. You're going away, leaving me behind. [Weeps and hugs him round the neck.]
YASHA. What's the use of crying ? [Drinks champagne] In six days I'll be again in Paris. To-morrow we get into the express and off we go. I can hardly believe it. Vive la France! It doesn't suit me here, I can't live here . . . it's no good. Well, I've seen the uncivilized world; I have had enough of it. [Drinks champagne] What do you want to cry for? You behave yourself properly, and then you won't cry.
DUNYASHA. [Looks in a small mirror and powders her face] Send me a letter from Paris. You know I loved you, Yasha, so much! I'm a sensitive creature, Yasha. (Act 4)
One may say that Dunyasha has achieved her goal of becoming like a lady—namely, Madame Ranevsky, who allows a scoundrel to misuse her.

Class Distinctions

.......The social gap between the upper and lower classes is beginning to close in the new Russia, as Fiers points. Once upon a time, he says, "The peasants kept their distance from the masters and the masters kept their distance from the peasants, but now everything's all anyhow and you can't understand anything" (Act 2).
.......However, the gap is still wide enough to create tension. For example, when Lopakhin broaches the idea of idea cutting down the cherry orchard to make room for money-making villas, Ranevsky calls the plan a vulgar, bourgeois concept. Class differences surface again when a discussion is under way about how to save the estate and Gaev says, "My aunt's very rich, but she doesn't like us. My sister, in the first place, married an advocate, not a noble. She not only married a man who was not a noble, but she behaved herself in a way which cannot be described as proper" (Act 1).
.......From time to time in the play, Lopakhin—though a wealthy businessman—acknowledges his humble origins, with regret. For example, he says, "My father was a peasant, an idiot, he understood nothing, he didn't teach me, he was always drunk, and always used a stick on me. In point of fact, I'm a fool and an idiot too. I've never learned anything, my handwriting is bad, I write so that I'm quite ashamed before people, like a pig!" (Act 2).

Failure to Grasp Reality

.......Madame Ranevsky fails to grasp the seriousness of her financial straits and the fact that the age of nobility and privilege is dying. It is as if she thinks a god will appear, deus ex machina, to lead her to a pot of gold and restore her to the happy days of her youth. When she imagines that she sees her mother in the cherry orchard, she reveals her tendency to dwell in the idyllic past and ignore the unsettling reality of the present.

Self-Destruction

.......Madame Ranevsky makes choices that sabotage her well-beingemotional, financial, and otherwise. For example, she marries a man who turns out to be a good-for-nothing drunk. Then, after her husband dies and her seven-year-old son drowns, she takes up with a scoundrel, a man whom she nurses during an illness. After he depletes her finances in Paris, he leaves her for another woman. Later, he begs her to return. Meanwhile, she and her brother have an opportunity to liquidate their debts by signing on to Lopakhin's scheme to build and rent villas. But both she and Gaev refuse to take part in it because it will mean the destruction of the beloved cherry orchard. However, she does nothing to save her property. In the end, after Lopakhin buys the property, she returns to the man who ruined her. Anya goes with her. 
.......Other charactersCharlotta, for examplealso sabotage their welfare by doing nothing to improve their lot. Trofimov attends a university, but one wonders whether he will ever graduate. Epikhodov does not know whether to go on living or commit suicide. 
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Generosity

.......Despite all her failings, Ranevsky has a redeeming quality: generosity. She gives freely of her loveperhaps too freely at timesand of what little money she has left, as the incident involving the tramp demonstrates. Lopakhin also exhibits generosity when he offers Trofimov money (Trofimov does not accept it) and hires Epikhodov to watch over the estate after Madame Ranevsky returns to Paris.


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Climax

.......The climax occurs in Act 4 when Lopakhin announces that he has purchased Ranevsky's property. He says,

The cherry orchard is mine now, mine! [Roars with laughter] My God, my God, the cherry orchard's mine! Tell me I'm drunk, or mad, or dreaming. . . . [Stamps his feet] Don't laugh at me! If my father and grandfather rose from their graves and looked at the whole affair, and saw how their Ermolai, their beaten and uneducated Ermolai, who used to run barefoot in the winter, how that very Ermolai has bought an estate, which is the most beautiful thing in the world! I've bought the estate where my grandfather and my father were slaves, where they weren't even allowed into the kitchen. I'm asleep, it's only a dream, an illusion. . . . It's the fruit of imagination, wrapped in the fog of the unknown. 
Conflict

.......The central conflict of the play is the battle between the values of the old Russia and the values of the new Russia. 

Satire

.......In depicting Ranevsky's prodigality, Chekhov is satirizing the extravagance of aristocrats with inherited wealth who never held a job and never learned the value of a single kopeck. In depicting Trofimov's idealism, Chekhov appears to be satirizing visionaries who are all talk but no action. Instead of acting to further his ideals, Trofimovwho is nearly thirtycontinues to attend the university as a "perpetual student." 

Symbols

Cherry orchard: To Madame Ranevsky, the cherry orchard represents the flowering of gentility and refinement in the good old days at her estate. To Trofimov, the orchard represents the serfdom and oppression of the people who tended the property in bygone days. To Lopakhin, it represents commercialism and money. Lopakhin views other plant life in the same way.

In the spring I sowed three thousand acres of poppies, and now I've made forty thousand roubles net profit. And when my poppies were in flower, what a picture it was! So I, as I was saying, made forty thousand roubles. . . . . (Act 4)
Dropped purse: In Act 2, while Ranevsky is outside with Gaev and Lopakhin, she drops her purse. Gold coins scatter about. This incident symbolizes Ranevksy's spendthrift ways. 
Fiers' death: Fiers' death at the end of the play symbolizes the death of the old Russia.
Nursery: This room in the Ranevsky estate symbolizes the comfortable and secure past of Ranevsky and Gaev. Moreover, it suggests that Ranevsky and Gaev still act like children in many ways. 
Telegraph poles: The line of telegraph poles symbolizes the modern world that Ranevsky and Gaev reject.
Varya's keys: The keys symbolize the control and order typifying her management of the estate, qualities lacking in Ranevsky and Gaev.

Ironic Ending

.......The play concludes with a supreme irony. Ranevsky, who once had power and money, ends up with next to nothing. Lopakhin, who once had nothing as the son of a serf, ends up as a man of power and wealth who owns the Ranevsky estate.

Foreshadowing

The Frost

.......Whether the frost (stage directions, beginning of the play) damages the cherry blossoms is unknown. (Cherry orchards are especially vulnerable to a killing frost.) But the frost nonetheless seems to foreshadow the loss of the cherry orchard and the rest of the Ranevsky estate. In Act 4, Lopakhin acquires the estate and begins felling  the cherry trees to make way for the construction of villas. 

Allusions and Terms

Buckle: Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1861), English historian famous for his unfinished History of Civilization in England.
copeck (or kopeck): Monetary unit equaling 1/100 of a rouble.
créches: Nurseries; day-care centers.
dessiatin: Dessiatine, a land measurement equal to about 2.7 acres.
Ein, zwei, drei: German for one, two, three.
get thee to a nunnery (Act 2): Allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Hamlet speaks this line (3.1.121) in rebuffing Ophelia. 
kvass: Fermented drink made from bread, rye, and barley.
Les cavaliers à genou et remerciez vos dames!: Gentlemen, go down on your knees and thank your ladies.
"The Magdalen" by Tolstoy: Poem by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (1817-1875) about an immoral woman.
Mentone: Menton, a resort town on the French Riviera in southern France.
Nietzsche: Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher famous for his declaration that "God is dead."
nymph, remember me in thine orisons (Act 2): Allusion to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The words paraphrase what Hamlet says to Ophelia in the first scene of Act 3, lines 88-89: "Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins remember'd." Orisons are prayers.
patchouli: Cheap perfume.
promenade à une paire: Dance for couples.
rouble (or ruble): Basic monetary unit of Russia.
salto mortale: Full somersault with the legs drawn up to the chest.
villa: Summer country house.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

  • Who is the most admirable character in the play? Who is the least admirable?
  • Varya and Lopakhin seem to be a good match. Both are practical-minded, hard-working, and competent in the management of financial affairs. Ranevsky says, "You know very well, Ermolai Alexeyevitch [Lopakhin], that I used to hope to marry her to you, and I suppose you are going to marry somebody? She loves you, she's your sort, and I don't understand, I really don't, why you seem to be keeping away from each other. I don't understand!" Lopakhin replies, "To tell the truth, I don't understand it myself. It's all so strange." But Lopakhin never proposes and, by the end of the play, he and Varya go their separate ways. Why? Is he perhaps reluctant to become involved with a family of noble stock that once owned his father? Explain your answer.
  • How does the incident involving the tramp help to define Madame Ranevsky's character?
  • Yasha is self-centered and obnoxious. How does his presence help to define the other characters?
  • Is Epikhodov serious when he says he is thinking about killing himself? 
  • Write an essay explaining what life was life for Russian serfs before their liberation in 1861.

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