What is a main theme of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme that is most prominently introduced at the beginning of the play is class difference and class interaction. The first scene shows Lopakhin awaiting the arrival of Mme. Ranevsky, her daughter Anya, her adopted daughter Varya, and the governess Charlotta Ivanovna. The merchant Lopakhin, having peasant ancestry, talks with and scolds, first, Dunyasha the housemaid, then Epikhodov the clerk. On one hand, they converse as equals. Dunyasha confesses to Lopakhin to being on the verge of fainting from nervous anticipation of the arrival of the ladies. After which, Epikhodov asks advice of Lopakhin on what to do about his brand new yet monstrously squeaky shoes [shoes made of leather tend to squeakiness]. In this way, they speak as equals, with Lopakhin even pointing out his still inescapable peasant's blood.

On the other hand, Lopakhin in the same conversation scolds Dunyasha, a housemaid, for dressing and styling her hair like an upper class lady, saying "You oughtn't. You should know your place." To Epikhodov, Lopakhin simply says, "Go away. You bore me" when Epikhodov tries to get advice:

I bought myself some boots two days ago, and I beg to assure you that they squeak in a perfectly unbearable manner. What shall I put on them?

In this way, Lopakhin speaks from and reinforces the class divide that separates them, regardless of peasant roots, and makes him superior and them inferior. They may be good enough for idle conversation and for the occasional soul-bearing confession of no great significance, but they are not good enough to extend the compassion of humanity to. And why? In this case, by casting Lopakhin as a peasant turned successful merchant, Chekhov is saying the divide is clearly explicitly attributed to money and the trappings money buys even though money does nothing to or for the inner being:

LOPAKHIN. ... My father was a peasant, it's true, but here I am in a white waistcoat and yellow shoes... a pearl out of an oyster. I'm rich now, with lots of money, but just think about it and examine me, and you'll find I'm still a peasant down to the marrow of my bones. [Turns over the pages of his book] Here I've been reading this book, but I understood nothing. I read and fell asleep.

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The Cherry Orchard

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