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The Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov

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Discussion Topic

Main theme and message of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard."

Summary:

The main theme of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" is the inevitability of change and the passage of time. The play highlights the decline of the Russian aristocracy and the rise of the middle class, emphasizing how characters must adapt to survive. The central message is that clinging to the past prevents progress and leads to loss.

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What is a main theme of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"?

The main theme of The Cherry Garden is the inability of a privileged family to change and adapt to the harsher realities of their current social and economic situation. Their situation mirrors the inability of many in the Russian upper class to adapt to the changes that came when the serfs were freed.

The Ranevskaya family can't adjust its lifestyle to fit its reduced income in changing times. Therefore, it is faced with either selling its estate or selling off part of its vast cherry orchard to pay the mortgage on the estate. The family is apathetic and paralyzed, unable to make effective decisions, because they simply don't want to face an unpleasant reality. They refuse to sell even part of the cherry orchard because it represents to them a past to which they are romantically attached. In the end, they relinquish the entire estate, thinking it will save the orchard. However, the new owner immediately cuts down the orchard and sells the wood.

The Raneyskayas can't acknowledge that their wealth initially came from exploiting the serfs, so can't adapt to the new reality that their wealth must diminish. They are used to living on other people without having to pay the price, but now they have to pay:

That's why your mother, you yourself, and your uncle no longer realize that you are living on borrowed capital, at other people's expense, at the expense of those whom you don't admit farther than your entrance hall.

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What is a main theme of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"?

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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What is the message of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov?

Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is all about change that is supposed to be “progress” but is often sadness accompanied by memory and modernity. Let’s look at how this works in the play.

Madame Lyuba Ranevskaya has fallen into debt, and she is faced with a difficult choice. She must either sell her estate or cut down her beloved cherry orchard and replace it with cottages to rent out to vacationers. Change is coming. There is no avoiding it. The modern world is creeping in upon Lyuba’s home. She cannot afford to keep it as it is now, for she has made poor choices.

Lopahin offers Lyuba a chance to keep most of her estate, but she will have to let go of the orchard. It is progress, he says. Yet the orchard is filled with memories for Lyuba. It is a symbol of the innocence she has lost and all the beauty and purity and grace that she once had and longs for again. It is a symbol, too, of a way of life that is now being lost.

Each of the characters in the play must cope with change in their own way. Lopahin welcomes it and embraces it. Lyuba tries to hold it off. Anya grieves for her mother’s struggles. Trofimov takes a cynical turn. Firs feels like time has left him behind just as the family does in the end when they all scatter. The estate has been sold. Lopahin will cut down the orchard. Change has come, and there is no turning back.

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