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

The Cherry Orchard

by Anton Chekhov

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Student Question

What does the cherry orchard symbolize in The Cherry Orchard?

Quick answer:

The cherry orchard signifies aristocratic power and the ownership of land on which it is based. Madame Ranevskaya is horrified at the thought of losing her cherry orchard, because she knows that it will represent a loss of power and social status.

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When Chekhov wrote The Cherry Orchard, Russia was experiencing great economic and social change. In the midst of all this, the old aristocracy, the traditional ruling class of Russia, did everything it could to hang on to their economic and political power.

The basis of that power was land. Land ownership didn't just confer wealth upon the aristocracy; it also represented a very public manifestation of their high social status. Without land, aristocrats would inevitably fall down the social scale.

This is the main worry of the incredibly class-conscious Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard. She's genuinely horrified at the prospect of cutting down her cherry orchard, divvying up her land into one-acre plots, and renting them out to members of the emerging bourgeoisie. Yet this is precisely what she must do if she's to save her beloved estate.

The world outside is changing, but Madame Ranevskaya cannot. So she clings to her cherry orchard as a living symbol of a more glorious past for the Russian aristocracy, when their status wasn't under threat from nouveau-riche upstarts like Lopakhin. Lopakhin represents the new Russia, a Russia in which wealth is becoming more important than breeding as a mark of social distinction.

The eventual destruction of the cherry orchard by Lopakhin's workmen—before Madame Ranevskaya and her family have even had the chance to move out of the house—represents the attack on the old aristocracy and their way of life by rapidly-developing social and economic forces.

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