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The Cherry Orchard. A Literary Analysis by Veronika Poplavskaya

Uniqueness of Chekhov plays

Chekhov’s plays affected not only Russian literature but the whole literature process in XX century. The main reason of this affection was Chekhov’s ability:

  • to see social problems deeply inside, when those just opens up;
  • to write about social-psychological problems;
  • to give central role to “the people of the new formation” who are obviously unnecessary in their community;
  • to recognize social illnesses of the 20th century such as egoism, disrespect between people, disability to understand each other and absence of love between people.

    “The people of the new formation”

    What they have:

  • uncertain spiritual qualities;
  • absence of life ideals and goals;
  • cheap life principles;
  • very unimportant speeches of real everyday life;
  • disrespect to old generation.

    Genre and peculiarity of the scene action

    Most producers prefer to see The Cherry Orchard as a comedy (even Chekhov wanted to see his play this way), however satirical part of the play is so weak. Lately The Cherry Orchard was known as comedy, drama, lyrical comedy, tragicomedy and tragedy. Probably it is little difficult to recognize the plays genre clearly. All characters go thru the conflict of “given” and “wished”– the conflict between everyday being and idea of human purpose in the world.

    Outside and inside conflicts in the play

  • The outside conflict of The Cherry Orchard is a selling of the family estate for the debts. We can see historical change of the social bases: end of cherry gardens period with beauty memories of a previous life. The owners are so unpractical and passive, they feel that their time has been left. The “Lopakhin period” is coming. He is a new owner and it makes him so happy and satisfied of himself because of his father use to be a former peasant in this farm. It looks as a historical justice for the new generation of estate owners. Lopakhin is a very pragmatic businessman. In the first act he offers a deal to save the imperial estate. This offer became as a way to another life of usefulness, not beauty at all. It is why old owners see this offer so silly and senseless. All characters doesn’t understand each other, it looks like they speak different languages. Chekhov shows up resistance of different life positions, but not a fight of characters. The main final part of the outside conflict is selling of the family estate on the auction. The hope is gone, nobody can not change anything, however in the being of characters is no changes at all. The end of outside conflict is optimistic .

  • The main action has been moved on the side by the inside conflict. The sale of family estate became an unnecessary event compare to the nonstop circle of life. Chekhov puts everyday going life and time moving in the center.

    The outside conflict is closely related to the inside conflict and this is the most important philosophical conflict of the play.

    The time moving in the play

    Chekhov is clearly concretizes the time in the play:

  • the action is taking place from May to October;
  • The train comes 2 hours later Ranevsky left 5 years ago, her husband died 6 years ago and month later died her 7th years old son.

    Most characters in the play stays in the condition when they don’t recognize if it is real life of just a dream. Their world is a time of day dreams without any relationship to reality. The triumph of new owner Lopakhin shows up silly wish of humans to stop the time and put it in the frames like “here and now” However characters of the play are tenants of different time periods. It is past for Gaev and Ranevsky, future for Anya and Trofimov and present for Lopakhin. At the moment when all characters recognize that time is so fast they feel that buying or loosing of family estate is fully unimportant compare to the life which is gone for most of them. The feel of emptiness comes into their hearts, and symbol of their feelings is the empty house.

    The role of detail in the play

    Chekhov uses detail as an important artistic tool to show up emotions, psychology of characters, conflicts etc.:

    1. the short speeches between characters which doesn’t help to open the idea of action but illustrate disconnection between the characters and the world around them
    2. sound effects
    3. the landscape
    4. furniture
    5. author remarks
    6. speech characteristics of characters

    The symbols in the play

  • the symbol of spiritual absence is felled cherry garden
  • the symbol of silly lost wealth is a sold estate
  • the symbol of debts is a result of their spending during the whole life
  • the symbol of The Cherry Orchard is a destiny of Russia

    The Cherry Orchard is a particular place and yet it is more. It represents an inextricable tangle of sentiments, which together comprise a way of life and an attitude to life. By the persistent feelings shown towards it, at one extreme by old Firs, the house-serf for whom the family is his whole existence , and at another by Trofimov, the intellectual for whom it is the image of repression and slavery; by Lopakhin, the businessman and spokesman for hard economic facts, the one who thinks of it primarily as a means to wiser investment, and by Mme Ranevsky, who sees in it her childhood happiness and her former innocence, who sees it as the embodiment of her best values – by these and many other contradictions, an audience finds that the orchard grows from a painted backcloth to an ambiguous, living, poetic symbol of human life, any human life, in a state of change. (Critical Essays on Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard, John L. Styan)

    You can download the original presentation in ppt format (2,46MB)

    © V. Poplavskaya

    Thanks to Veronika Poplavskaya for this material

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