The Cherry Orchard is about an aristocratic family that is unable to prevent its beloved estate from being auctioned off. More symbolically, it is about the growth of the middle class in Russia and the fall of the aristocracy. The once-wealthy family's estate and beloved orchard is purchased by a man who once served as a serf on the estate. Though Chekhov intended the play as a comedy, most productions emphasize the tragedy of the events. Mrs. Ranevsky and her family are unable to find a way to succeed within the new social order of Russia, while Lopakhin profits from the business opportunity and gains personal satisfaction in displacing those who once ruled over him.
Apathy and Passivity
For Mrs. Ranevsky, her daughters, and her brother Leonid Gayev, apathy and passivity have become a way of life, as Mrs. Ranevsky's line "if only this heavy load could be lifted from my heart; if only I could forget my past!'' reveals. Mrs. Ranevsky has given up trying to change her circumstances and is resigned to taking her life as it comes. She goes out to expensive lunches, buys a gift for Anya, lends her neighbor Pishchik money, and gives a gold piece to the homeless hiker in Act Two. Mrs. Ranevsky refuses to accept that she can change her circumstances by changing her behavior. She becomes passive and allows the auction to take place. Gayev, Anya, and Varya also become passive in the situation, and continue to believe that everything will work out. This apathy, combined with a fear of living below the standards to which they've become accustomed—is what keeps the family from saving its orchard.
The family ignores Lopakhin's suggestion of breaking up the orchard into smaller plots for country cottages. Mrs. Ranevsky considers the suggestion vulgar, declaring that the orchard is famous for being the largest and most beautiful in Russia. She and her brother do almost nothing to avert the auction and remaining passive and hoping for a solution or a savior, such as their relative the Countess, seals their fate.
A good example of this passivity is this statement from Gayev: "I've been thinking, racking my brains; I've got all sorts of remedies, lots of them, which, of course, means I haven't got one." This lack of ability to adapt to the changing social conditions in Russia at the turn of the century was very common, as many wealthy landowners lost their estates to debt. Gayev would rather mime billiard shots than find a real solution to the financial situation in which his family finds itself.
Varya also remains passive, though she tries to save money where she can by feeding the servants only dried peas. It upsets her to stand by as her mother and uncle do nothing, but she is powerless to act without their support. Varya wishes to enter a convent but does not; she is even incapable of acting on her own behalf in this instance. Similarly, Varya's passivity when it comes to her love for Yermolay Lopakhin (and his passivity toward it as well) leads to their inability to commit to one another in marriage. Both repeatedly say they have no objections to marriage, but neither proposes it, because...
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