English Literature
The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard

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The Cherry Orchard: A Timeless Masterpiece by Anton Chekhov

Have you ever been to a place that captured your heart? A place you would do anything to go back to? In Anton Chekhov's final play, The Cherry Orchard, the Ranevsky family is faced with the heartbreaking reality of selling their beloved ancestral home. As they struggle to come to terms with this loss, the play delves into the effects of societal changes in Russia during the 1800s.

The Life and Genius of Anton Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard (1904) was the last work of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), a renowned Russian playwright and short story writer. He wrote this masterpiece between 1901 and 1903, and it premiered on his 44th and final birthday in January 1904. Despite battling tuberculosis, Chekhov attended the premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre, just five months before his passing.

Chekhov is famous for his four major plays: The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1898), Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). All four were first staged at the Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski. Although originally written as comedies, Chekhov was disappointed with their portrayal as tragedies.

The Cherry Orchard: A Mirror to Social Changes

The Cherry Orchard is heavily influenced by the social shifts taking place in Russia during the 1800s. Chekhov himself grew up during the reign of Tsar Alexander II (1818-1881), also known as Alexander the Liberator. This was a time of immense change, as the Emancipation Declaration of 1861 freed serfs from slavery. Serfs were former slaves who were owned and worked as land laborers by the aristocratic, landowning class.

While the emancipation of serfs was met with controversy, it ultimately led to a move towards a free-market economy in Russia. This resulted in the rise of the lower class while diminishing the power of the upper class. In The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov explores these societal changes as a noble landowning family is forced to sell their estate to a former serf.

A Personal Connection for Chekhov

Chekhov's family history mirrors that of the Ranevsky family in the play, with a lineage of financial struggles. His paternal grandfather was a serf who bought his freedom in 1841, and Chekhov's own family had to sell their estate to pay off debts. This parallel between reality and fiction adds depth to the play's themes.

The Storyline of The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard is divided into four acts, a signature style of Chekhov's plays. In the first act, after spending five years in Paris, Lubov Ranevsky returns to find out that their estate, with its beautiful cherry orchard, will be auctioned off in three months' time. She had gone to Paris to escape the grief of losing her husband and son. However, her daughter Anya, who accompanies her, discovers that her mother is still careless with money despite their dire financial circumstances.

The play revolves around Lubov's emotional attachment to their ancestral home and the family's struggle to find a solution to their debt. Lopakhin, a former peasant turned successful businessman, offers to help by renting out the land for villas. However, Lubov's reluctance to let go of her lavish lifestyle creates tension and conflict within the family.

Comedy or Tragedy? You Decide

Chekhov's works are renowned for their fusion of comedy and tragedy, and The Cherry Orchard is no exception. As a reader, you are encouraged to contemplate which genre the play fits into and the reasoning behind your belief. The ending of the play is left open to interpretation, leaving audiences to ponder the fate of the Ranevsky family and the impact of societal changes on their lives.

The destiny of the estate hangs in the balance as Lubov and Gaev weigh their options. Lopakhin suggests dividing the land and constructing summer villas, but Lubov and Gaev cannot bear the thought of parting with their cherished home. Lubov confesses her financial troubles and regrets her past mistakes, revealing the tragic events that have plagued her family.

Amidst the heated debate, Peter Trofimov joins the group and criticizes the idle Russian aristocracy. Ironically, he is a perpetual student with no job. The arrival of a beggar further agitates Lubov, and she impulsively gives him gold. Only Anya and Trofimov remain, finding solace in each other's company.

It's Time to Say Goodbye: The Final Act of The Cherry Orchard

In the final act of The Cherry Orchard, the Ranevsky family prepares to bid farewell to their beloved estate. Lubov, the matriarch, anxiously waits for news from her brother, who has gone to ask their wealthy aunt for money to save the estate. Meanwhile, Varya is teased about her potential marriage to Lopakhin, but is hurt by Trofimov's remarks and runs off. In a moment of vulnerability, Lubov confides in Trofimov about her former lover who has used and left her, but she still loves him. As the group dances, Lopakhin makes a shocking announcement that he has bought the cherry orchard and plans to chop it down for development.

The Last Day at the Estate

As the final day at the estate arrives, the family packs up their belongings and prepares to leave the now empty house. Anya, Lubov's young daughter, offers comfort to her mother and promises that one day she will find happiness again. The once flourishing cherry orchard, now gone, becomes a symbol of Lopakhin's rise to success and the changing times for the lower class. Despite their losses, the family moves on with bittersweet memories of their beloved estate.

What the Future Holds for the Characters

Lopakhin is preparing to leave the Ranevsky estate and head to Kharkov for work until the spring. Anya, now ready to attend school, and Lubov, accompanied by her servant Yasha at his request, are both setting off for new adventures. Gaev, Lubov's brother, has landed a job as a bank official.

Farewell to the Estate

The family bids their final farewells to the estate, with Lubov expressing her concern for Varya, who now has nothing to occupy her time since the house has been sold. She reminds Lopakhin of her wish for him to marry Varya, but he admits he is unsure why he hasn't proposed yet and promises to do so soon. Lubov calls Varya into the room and announces that she will be leaving to take care of another family's house. However, Lopakhin, consumed by his business affairs, does not propose to Varya.

The Heartbreaking Farewell

As everyone but Lubov and Gaev have left, they embrace and weep over the loss of their beloved estate. Eventually, they too must leave and Lopakhin locks up the house.

A Forgotten Footman

Despite the family's belief that the 87-year-old footman, Fiers, was taken to the doctor earlier that day due to illness, he was actually left behind in the locked house. Struggling to open the door, he realizes he has been forgotten and mutters to himself as he listens to the sound of the cherry trees being chopped down in the distance.

Meet the Characters of The Cherry Orchard

The characters in The Cherry Orchard are primarily members of the Ranevsky family, their household staff, and a few family friends. To fully understand the story, it is important to become familiar with the Russian names.

  • Lubov Andreyevna Ranevsky: The matriarch of the Ranevsky family and the owner of the cherry orchard. Lubov is known for her extravagant spending habits and represents the upper class who cling to their luxurious lifestyle despite changing times.
  • Anya: Lubov's 17-year-old daughter, who is viewed as the baby of the family. She is sent to Paris with a governess to bring her mother back after hearing of her suicide attempt. Anya is the favorite of the Ranevsky family and tries to comfort her mother with her sweet and innocent nature.
  • Varya (Barbara): The 27-year-old adopted daughter of Lubov, who is a hard-working and responsible older sibling. She takes care of the household and family matters. Varya dreams of becoming a nun, but her family's financial struggles prevent her from doing so. It is mentioned that Varya is expected to marry Lopakhin, but he never proposes.
  • Leonid Gaev: Lubov's brother and the uncle of Anya and Varya. He is known for his long-winded speeches, which often tire the family. Gaev is deeply sentimental about the family estate and tries to save it by borrowing money from his wealthy aunt and friends, but his efforts are in vain.
  • Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin: A wealthy businessman and the son of a former serf. Lopakhin represents the rising lower class and believes the solution to Lubov's financial troubles is to rent out the estate for construction. However, his efforts are in vain and he ends up purchasing the cherry orchard himself. While Lopakhin has good intentions, he is ultimately driven by money and business.

Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov: The Radical Intellectual in The Cherry Orchard

In Anton Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard, Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov is a central character who serves as a foil to Lopakhin. He is portrayed as a perpetual student, always seeking knowledge and advocating for change in Russian aristocracy and intellectuals. Despite being mocked for his radical beliefs and lengthy speeches, he is like family to the Ranevskys, serving as the former tutor of Lubov's son Grisha.

Fiers, the 87-year-old footman, is another significant character in the play. He has been a loyal servant to the Ranevsky family for many years and longs for the old days of serfdom. However, in the rapidly modernizing society, he is left behind and forgotten, symbolizing the consequences of refusing to adapt to change.

Set in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, The Cherry Orchard explores themes of change, identity, money, work, and love. The Ranevsky estate, where the story takes place, reflects the fading power of the nobility and the growing opportunities for the lower class. It also serves as a reminder of the characters' past and their ties to tradition. The iconic cherry orchard on the estate symbolizes both beauty and decay, as well as the inevitability of change.

The cherry orchard also represents tradition and societal structure. While some characters, such as Lubov and Gaev, cling to the traditional upper-class standards embodied by the orchard, others, like Trofimov, advocate for change and new opportunities. Chekhov cleverly uses the fate of the cherry orchard to present the opposing viewpoints of the traditional upper and lower classes during this period of social change.

Change and identity play a significant role in the play as well, as the characters are forced to adapt to their new positions in the changing social hierarchy. Their identities are intricately tied to their roles and the expectations of their class. Additionally, money and work are frequently debated, with money being used as a means of power and control, while work represents purpose and identity.

The Cherry Orchard also delves into the concept of love and freedom, albeit in non-traditional ways. Several potential romantic relationships are introduced throughout the play, but they are ultimately hindered by the characters' struggle with societal norms and their own identities.

In conclusion, The Cherry Orchard is a poignant depiction of a society in flux and the impact it has on individuals. Through his masterful use of symbols and themes, Chekhov offers a profound commentary on how change is an integral part of life and the consequences of refusing to adapt to it.

During times of change, we often lose pieces of our past. This is evident in the play The Cherry Orchard, as Fiers, who has been a loyal servant to the family, is forgotten and left behind. This reflects the widespread feelings of disconnection and isolation experienced during a period of rapid social and economic transformation.

The Cherry Orchard: Lessons on Change

The setting of the play is Russia at the turn of the 20th century, a time of significant societal change. The main themes revolve around change itself, as well as identity, money, work, love, and freedom.

  • The character Lubov is torn between her love for her partner and her sense of duty towards her family.
  • The cutting down of the cherry trees symbolizes the end of traditional ways of life, as the characters struggle to adapt to the changing times.
  • The play concludes with the destruction of the cherry orchard to make room for new villas, representing the inevitability of change and the consequences of our choices.

The Importance of The Cherry Orchard

Through its powerful themes and thought-provoking plot, The Cherry Orchard reminds us that change is an integral part of life. As humans, we must learn to adapt and evolve in order to survive. While we may grieve the loss of the past, we must also embrace the new opportunities that come with change.


Chekhov, Anton (translated by Julian West). The Cherry Orchard. 1904.

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