Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
Madame Lubov Ranevskaya returns from a disastrous love affair in Paris to her family and her ancestral home, with its famous cherry orchard, ostensibly to try to save it from the auctioneer’s block. But she is unable to accept the idea of breaking up the property to use it commercially, thus condemning it by her inaction.
During the months she is home, the play’s six major and six minor characters gather around, sometimes offering conflicting views and advice. They flirt, do magic tricks, picnic, dance, and gossip. The young teacher and Lubov’s daughter, who are in love, look ahead eagerly, while the heroine and her brother can only mourn the passing of their home and its beautiful orchard, symbolic of the old order. Thus the play portrays many views on this changing society and world.
The play’s fame, however, rests on its tone and style as well as its rich characterizations, its musical structure, so lifelike in its apparent casualness, its astonishing gamut of emotions from pathos to farce.
Its compassionate and sympathetic portrayal of so many different character types results in its being subject to many conflicting readings. The author called it a comedy, and the characters’ foibles and weaknesses do render them comic from a dispassionate perspective. Nevertheless, the play’s basic situation is tragic. Thus, without seeming to be planned or forced, the play reveals the subtlest interactions of human society seen in this microcosm of a world in transition.
Barricelli, Jean Pierre, ed. Chekhov’s Great Plays: A Critical Anthology. New York: New York University Press, 1981. Seventeen essays that cover Chekhov’s dramatic art and the individual plays. The essays on The Cherry Orchard include the editor’s “Counterpoint of the Snapping String: Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard” and Francis Fergusson’s “The Cherry Orchard: A Theater-Poem of the Suffering of Change.”
Magarshak, David. Chekhov the Dramatist. New York: Hill and Wang, 1960. A thorough discussion of such topics as plays of direct action, transitions, and plays of indirect action, using Chekhov’s development as a dramatist as the context.
Peace, Richard. Chekhov: A Study of the Four Major Plays. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. A solid study of Uncle Vanya (1897), Three Sisters (1901), The Seagull (1896), and The Cherry Orchard. Excellent for basic information and knowledge about the plays.
Pitcher, Harvey. The Chekhov Plays: A New Interpretation. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. Offers bold new interpretations and nonstandard views, which make this study a valuable contribution to the understanding of Chekhov’s plays. The chapter on The Cherry Orchard is particularly illuminating.
Valency, Maurice. The Breaking String: The Plays of Anton Chekhov. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1966. One of the best treatments of Chekhov’s plays. Valency analyzes Chekhov’s approach to theater, and individually discusses all the plays, including The Cherry Orchard.
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