The Cherry Orchard
An analysis by Joanna D.
The Cherry Orchard is a metaphor for the class struggle that took place in Russia in the early twentieth century. Madame Ranevskaya can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on her estate, which includes her childhood home and the famous cherry orchard that surrounds it. It is to be auctioned off in a very short time. Each character has his own opinions about what she should do, but in the end, she loses everything.
The cherry orchard is Russia. As Trofimov, the eternal student, says, “All Russia is our orchard. It is a great and beautiful land, and there are many wonderful places in it.” Thus, just as the Bolsheviks and the Tsars struggled to gain control over the peasantry, which would give them control of Russia, so Madame Ranevskaya and the other old people struggle to keep her estate from being auctioned off. One might ask, what use is the cherry orchard if it does not even produce enough income to pay for its upkeep? Lopakhin, a middle class merchant, points out, “There’s a crop of cherries every other year and you can’t get rid of them, nobody buys them.”
Madame Ranevskaya wants to support the cherry orchard, rather than it supporting her. She loves it and derives her identity from it. “You see I was born here, my mother and father lived here, and my grandfather. I love this house, without the cherry orchard my life has no meaning for me, and if it must be sold, then sell me with the orchard…” She is like the old Tsars, trying desperately to keep their kingdom, even if they must sacrifice everything else. Just as the Tsars, granting civil liberties to appease mob, sacrificed their authority to control the mob, so she gives away and spends all her money heedlessly in an effort to make up for her debts. All that serves to do is to dig her deeper into debt.
Madame Ranevskaya’s brother Gayev points out that the cherry orchard is not only very big, but is “is even mentioned in the Encyclopedia” He wishes to preserve it because it has always been there. Ever the aristocrat, he talks endlessly, and when told to be quiet retreats into an imaginary game of billiards. He is a schemer and decides to ask for money from his aunt, Lopakhin, and the bank. Alas, his aunt sends too little money, the bank only offers him a job, Lopakhin does not help, and Pishchik, to whom Madame Ranevskaya has loaned money, sends enough, but too late. Also part of the nobility, he demonstrates how help came to the Tsars in the form of the counter-revolution too little and too late.
Firs, the old butler remembers that “they used to send cartloads of dried cherries to Moscow and Kharkov. And that brought in money!” Alas, the secret method of drying cherries has been forgotten, so the methods of the past are no longer viable. He represents the old order of people who held to the tsars. “I was already head footman when the Emancipation came, at that time I wouldn’t consent to my freedom, I stayed with the masters” But for all that, he is unappreciated. As Yasha, the footman, so tersely puts it “You bore me, grandpa. High time you croaked.”
Lopakhin the merchant thinks that the land ought to be used for other purposes, such as summer cottages. He proposes to cut down the entire orchard and build summer cottages, if only for the purpose of starting another farm or orchard. Ever the idealist, he has gotten the absurd idea that “it may well be that he’ll [the summer resident] take to cultivating his acre.” He represents the Bolshevik idealists who wanted to start all over again.
Trofimov, the student, thinks the cherry orchard ought to be abandoned all together, “we must work, and help with all our might those who are seeking the truth.” Paradoxically, he has yet to do any work, or even to receive his degree. He does try to change the upper class, admonishing Madame Ranevskaya to give up her self-destructive habits, such as supporting a betraying and spendthrift husband, but when she tells him that he has been avoiding the responsibility of supporting a wife he hurries away and falls down the stairs. This perhaps goes to show that when actually confronted with responsibility, the idealist of the Bolsheviks are at a loss and meet their downfall.
Anya and Varya, the daughters of the house, have fallen in love with Trofimov and Lopakhin. Anya no longer cares about the cherry orchard now that she has Trofimov, but she does care about the old order of things, because in the end, she endlessly inquires about Firs’s welfare. Varya is afraid that Anya and Trifimov will fall in love with each other. She is unaware, of course, that Anya and Trofimov are “above love.” She is also insensitive to the fact that she has also fallen in love with the Bolsheviks. Alas, nothing comes of it. Lopakhin “is either silent or he jokes.” about getting married to Varya.
When the day of the auction comes, Gayev departs, taking with him the money that his aunt has sent to buy the orchard as well as Lopakhin on the assumption that he will help them finance the orchard. But when the bidding gets going, Lopakhin bids for it himself and buys it. Just as the Bolsheviks finally triumphed, so Lopakhin succeeds in buying the estate to build summer houses. The morning that everyone is to leave the estate, Lopakhin has already started to cut down the orchard. Anya is to stay and study for her high school examinations with Trofimov. Lopakhin never proposes to Varya. Madame Ranevskaya takes her aunt’s money and lives off it in Paris, not that the money will last long with her spendthrift ways. Gayev “has taken a position in a bank; he will get six thousand a year. . . . Only, of course, he won’t stick it out, he’s too lazy.” Firs was supposed to be sent to the hospital, but, in spite of all Anya’s inquires, he was forgotten and locked in the house all winter, which he is not likely to survive. Just as the reign of the Tsars finally crumbled, so the cherry orchard and all who wanted to preserve it fall.