Illustration of a chopped down cherry tree that was cut into logs

The Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov

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How does Anton Chekhov use symbolism and stream of consciousness in The Cherry Orchard?

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In Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, the orchard in the title is almost absurdly large, and it carries a number of different symbolic meanings for the play’s characters. Let’s look at some of these.

For Madame Ranevsky, the cherry orchard symbolizes her childhood, and she is unwilling to let it be cut down. She recalls her mother walking through the orchard and the innocent days when she used to look out from the nursery over the orchard. “Oh, my orchard!” she exclaims. “After the dark gloomy autumn, and the cold winter, you are young again, and full of happiness, and the heavenly angels have never left you.” For her, the orchard is a place of peace and comfort. It does not have to do anything useful. It must simply be what it is.

The merchant Lopakhin, however, has other ideas about the orchard. To him, it is an obstacle. He wants to cut it down and build cottages that can be rented out in the summers. He would earn a profit that way, and Madame Ranevsky could solve her money troubles. The orchard must be sold to pay her debts in any case, and the cherries are worthless. Lopakhin notes that “no one buys them.” Also for Lopakhin, the orchard reminds him of his unhappy childhood, so he is particularly willing to see it go.

As for the author’s stream of consciousness technique, we can note that the characters in this play tend to speak their thoughts freely, moving from one idea to the next as they come into their minds. We can see this in Madame Ranevsky’s meditations on the orchard especially but also somewhat in Lopakhin’s attempts at persuasiveness.

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