Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Whereas Chekhov depicts the defeat of the cultured elite in one of drama’s saddest works, The Three Sisters, he examines the same problem from a more comic-ironic view in The Cherry Orchard. While Konstantin Stanislavsky staged the premiere of the play as a somber tragedy, Chekhov insisted, in letters about this production, on calling it “not a drama but a comedy, in places almost a farce.” Nonetheless, it has most often been performed as pathetic drama. Surely, its subjects are depressingly serious: the loss of an ancestral estate; the rise of a semiliterate, ambitious middle class to replace the aristocracy; the dispossession and scattering of the Ranevskaya family and household; and the guilt and remorse of Lyuba, who cannot resist her attachment to an unworthy man. The play’s concerns are loss, the failure to communicate and comprehend, and the death of an old order.
The Cherry Orchard presents a dilemma: The Ranevskaya family, which includes landowner Lyuboff (Lyuba) Andreena Ranevskaya, her brother Gayev, daughter Anya, and adopted daughter Varya, faces two alternatives that it finds equally unacceptable: either to lose the estate on the auction block because of its unpaid mortgage, or to destroy its uniqueness by chopping down its cherry trees and razing the residence to replace it with summer cottages. The second option, which will be exercised by the businessman who buys the orchard at auction, Yermolay...
(The entire section is 912 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Madame Ranevskaya’s little son, Grischa, drowns only a year after the death of her husband, her grief is so overwhelming that she goes to Paris to forget, and she remains away for five years. The Easter before her return to her estate in Russia, she sends for her seventeen-year-old daughter Anya to join her. To pay the expenses of her trip and that of her daughter, Madame Ranevskaya is forced to sell her villa at Mentone, and she now has nothing left. She returns home to find that her whole estate, including a cherry orchard, which is so famous that it is mentioned in an encyclopedia, is to be sold at auction to pay her debts. Madame Ranevskaya is heartbroken, but her old friend Lopakhin, a merchant whose father was once a serf on her ancestral estate, proposes a way out. He says that if the cherry orchard is cut down and the land divided into lots for rental to summer cottagers, she will be able to realize an income of at least twenty-five thousand rubles a year.
Madame Ranevskaya cannot endure the thought that her childhood home with all its memories will be subjected to such a fate, and all the members of her family agree with her. Her brother Gaev, who remains behind to manage the estate, is convinced that there must be some other way out, but none of his ideas seem feasible. It will be fine, he thinks, if they all come in for a legacy, or if Anya can be wed to a rich man, or if their wealthy aunt can be persuaded to come to their aid. The aunt...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Act 1 Summary
The Cherry Orchard opens in the nursery of Lyuba Andreyevna Ranevsky's estate. Although it is only about 2:00 A.M., it is close to daybreak, for it is May, when northern Russian days are long and the sun rises very early. Lopakhin, a businessman, and Dunyasha, a maid, anticipate the arrival of Mrs. Ranevsky, who is returning home from a self-imposed, five-year exile with her daughter, Anya, and her governess, Charlotte Ivanovna. Lopakhin speaks of his peasant background and his admiration for Mrs. Ranevsky; then the pair are briefly joined by the bumbling clerk, Yepikhodov, nicknamed "Twenty-two Calamities."
After arriving, the travelers enter, preceded by Firs, a manservant. They are soon joined by Varya, Lyuba's adopted daughter, Leonid Gayev, Lyuba's brother, Simeonov-Pishchik, a neighboring landowner, and Lopakhin and Dunyasha.
The reunion is very tearful. Mrs. Ranevsky sweeps about the room, overcome with joy. The family members all display great emotion, weeping uncontrollably, not just over each other, but over the cherry orchard and house, even the nursery and its furniture.
Lyuba is a generous but impractical sentimentalist. She tears up two telegrams from France without reading them, because, as she says, "I've finished with Paris." Yet she daydreams of her happy youth, and imagines, at one point, that she sees her mother wandering through the cherry orchard. Gayev, as sentimental as his sister, has a screw or two...
(The entire section is 544 words.)
Act 2 Summary
The scene shifts to outside a chapel near the orchard. Sunset approaches. Charlotte, Yasha (who is Firs's ambitious grandson), and Dunyasha sit on a bench. Nearby, Yepikhodov plays a guitar. After Charlotte ponders her heritage, Yepikhodov stops playing to remark on fate and his uncertainty about shooting himself. When Charlotte and the clerk leave, Dunyasha confesses her love for Yasha, but she is overcome by the smoke of his cigar and also leaves the scene.
Mrs. Ranevsky, Gayev, and Lopakhin enter. Lyuba, distraught by her admitted extravagant lifestyle, drops her purse, scattering gold coins on the ground. Yasha picks them up while she voices regrets about wasting money on lunch. Lopakhin again presses her to agree to his plan, but she finds his proposal "vulgar," making him momentarily furious. She speaks of the death of her son and her affair with the scoundrel who left her destitute, then tries to convince Lopakhin to marry Varya.
Firs enters with Gayev's overcoat. He is followed by Trofimov, Anya, and Varya. Talking with Lopakhin, Peter voices his disgust for the Russian intelligentsia, while Lopakhin, the selfmade man, speaks of his great success at making money.
As the sun sets and the air grows still, they hear the melancholic sound of a breaking string. For a moment, they try to identify its source, but they are interrupted by a drifter asking for a handout. Lyuba, foolishly generous, gives him one of her gold coins....
(The entire section is 287 words.)
Act 3 Summary
It is night, the day of the auction, during a party at Mrs. Ranevsky's estate. Couples enter the drawing room from the ballroom, where a band plays and guests dance. They await the return of Gayev, who, with money borrowed from the Countess, had gone to town to try to save the estate.
A forced gaiety keeps the mood superficially buoyant. Pishchik's complaints about his debts are blunted by Charlotte's clever ventriloquism and magic tricks, but Mrs. Ranevsky's apprehension surfaces in her confession that she intends to return to the wretch of a man who had fleeced and deserted her. Later, Mrs. Ranevsky and Peter get into an argument over the heart versus the head. Trofimov claims that he is beyond love for Anya. Lyuba ridicules him for being a pseudo-intellectual. Angry, Peter storms from the room, promptly falling down a flight of stairs.
A spreading rumor of the estate's sale momentarily upsets Mrs. Ranevsky, but she is soon dancing with Pishchik, who once more presses her for a loan. Thereafter, Yepikhodov, scorned by Dunyasha, gets into an argument with Varya, who attempts to beat him with a billiard cue but accidentally hits the arriving Lopakhin instead. However, the blow does nothing to dampen his spirits, for it is he who has bought the estate. Lopakhin gives a long, self-congratulatory and triumphant speech, leaving Mrs. Ranevsky in tears with only Anya to console her.
(The entire section is 234 words.)
Act 4 Summary
It is now October, and the setting is again the nursery. The room is bare except for some odd furniture. In the distance, an axe is heard; a woodsman has begun felling the cherry trees in the orchard.
The family members, getting ready to depart, have deposited their luggage near the front door. Lopakhin encourages everybody to share some champagne, but his enthusiasm only earns him bitter remarks from Trofimov. Anya enters, questioning whether the ailing Firs has been taken to the hospital. No one seems quite sure. Dunyasha then professes her love for the disdainful Yasha, who plans to return to Paris with Mrs. Ranevsky. Dunyasha will ultimately marry Yepikhodov instead.
Mrs. Ranevsky enters with Gayev, Anya, and Charlotte. She gives a tearful goodbye to the house, sadly reconciled to her fate. Gayev is more optimistic. He has secured a job in a bank. Pishchik, too, has had some luck; he has managed to escape ruin through leasing some clay-rich property. Concerned about Varya, Mrs. Ranevsky pushes Lopakhin to propose to her step-daughter. The businessman seems willing enough, but when left alone with Varya, neither is able to broach the subject.
Near the end, after the others depart for the train station, Lyuba and Gayev embrace in a tearful farewell. They, too, leave, and for a moment the stage is bare; then Firs enters, forgotten and left behind. Dejected over his fate, he plops down on a sofa and lies motionless. The doleful...
(The entire section is 263 words.)