Discuss the theme of emotion versus materialism in The Cherry Orchard.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that there is much to be discussed in Chekhov's work.  The fundamental conflict here is the aristocratic family who is forced to see their beloved estate sold off in an auction.  In this idea itself, one sees the conflict between emotion and materialism.  Yet, Chekhov is innovative in how this possesses complexity.  The emotion of the Ranevsky family is present, yet it is matched by a stunted element of apathy and passivity.  Simply put, the family does nothing from a proactive and practical point of view to maintain their emotional happiness.  They keep waiting for something to alleviate their pain, only to find that there is no miracle that is available.  In this, emotion is presented as noble and worthy, but must be accompanied by a sense of action and commitment.  Emotion without function is fairly worthless in the play.  On the other hand, materialism is present in the growth of the Russian middle class and in Lopakhin, himself.  While he is materialist, he does demonstrate love and an emotional connection to Mrs. Ranevsky in attempting to persuade her to "cut down the orchard to clear land for building country vacation cottages for the rising middle class."  In this, one sees materialism mixed with a sense of loyalty and a sense of emotional connection.  The theme of emotion vs. materialism in this dynamic between both characters is present, but it is not shown as an "either or" ultimatum element.  Rather, there is a development shown that both realities need the other in order to find happiness in what it means to be human.  It is here where the play makes its greatest impact.