I Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard furthered my understanding
I am delighted that the interactive oral on Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard furthered my understanding of certain cultural and political aspects of the novel. The following aspects that became clearer to me are; the importance of Memory for particular characters like Madame Ranevsky and Gayef, the way the transition of time is depicted in the play, and the portrayal of the conflict between capitalism and socialism.Cherry Orchard explores the after-effects of the Emancipation reform, which altered the social, political and cultural norms of the Russian society, thereby leading to the formation of a new Feudal Russia. Due to this economic alteration, the past holds utmost importance in this novel. For some characters like Ranevsky and Gayef – the past is something to which they are chained to. Both these characters fail to accept the strident present and deceptively live in their very own memories of the past, as they still behave like wealthy aristocrats even after losing a substantial portion of their wealth. The Cherry Orchard itself acts as a form of memory for them as with the days passing by and the auction day approaching, both Ranevsky and Gayef consistently remember their past when Cherry Orchard used to blossom and produce a crop every year.During the IO, we also recognized the importance of time transitions in the novel. Time, in this play, was varied continuously between the past and the present to depict the pre and post effects of the Emancipation reform. Time transitions are illustrated by the change of seasons, months and even through the symbolism of Firs, where Firs aging – symbolically represents the aging Cherry Orchard and the passing of a Russian Era. The auction day’s arrival was beautifully expressed through the passage of months, raising the tension at every phase of time.Lastly, we even discussed the two set of ideologies: Socialism and Capitalism, and how they were explored through significant characters in the play. Trophimof’s revolutionary socialist character depicted those group of Russians who believed in a more communist oriented government, whereas Lopakhin’s corporate and money minded character represented those groups of people who wanted to make a living in a corporate business world. The Characterization of these two set of ideologies by Lopakhin and Trophimof played a vital role in extending my understanding of the cultural and contextual considerations of the work as a whole.Anton Chekhov’ Cherry Orchard illustrates the nineteenth century Russia going through the Emancipation reform by contrasting the repercussions of this reform on a wealthy family with that on a slave. In a play, where almost everything is portrayed through dialogue, minor characters play a significant role in making use of dialogue to better explain the major themes; like the role of memory, social class hierarchy, love, marriage and even create conflicts like the conflict between Capitalism and socialism. The significance of memory is explored through the character of Firs, who acts as a representative of the glorious feudal Russia. Firs is introduced to the audience as an old servant who acts like a surviving link to the estate’s glorious past and is unable to adapt to the changing society. He believes that the emancipation reform had caused chaos in the structure of the Russian economy and instead of accepting the changing circumstances, he is often seen idealizing the past “in the old days… used to dry cherries ,soak ’em and pickle ’em…”.The tone here is of admiration and nostalgia as Firs is seen romanticizing Feudal Russia by bringing out elements of the glorious past. Firs is always talking about how things were in the past when the estate was prosperous, and how the masters went to Paris by carriage, instead of by train; most importantly, he frequently talks about how life was before the serfs were freed, to remind the audience of the thriving past. However, at the end of the play, Firs is forgotten in metaphorical sense and literal sense, he is ignored by rest of the family. Moreover, Chekov portrays the end of the old feudal Russia symbolically through the death of Firs. Firs is a representative of serfs who rejected the reform and like Ranevsky was stuck in the memories of the past. Chekhov repeatedly reminds the audience of Firs’ weak and aging character as the ‘ageing’ symbolically denotes the decline of the Serfdom period, as well as the cherry orchard – which approaches its auction day. The play concludes with a vacant stage and Firs mumbling “they’ve forgotten about me…life’s gone by” as he is presumably left behind and dies onstage (“…dying away melancholy”). The following disappearance of Firs represents the decay of one era, and the gradual rise of a new one as Firs’ death significantly marks the passing of the old class system, the passing of the aristocracy era and most importantly the passing of a phase in Russian history. With the death of Firs, Chekhov illustrates the eradication of all links to the old class system and Firs’ perspective on memories, which die with him. The destruction of the past is emphasized by breaking sound of the cable. A separation of the past from the present results in loss of memories and values. Chekhov brings out the theme of social class hierarchy through the minor character of Gayef, who seems to highlight many of Ranevsky’s traits. Gayef is Madame Ranevsky’s older unmarried brother who lives off the family fortune. Sometimes, he involves in verbal rhetorical speeches and becomes overly sentimental. His attitude towards peasants or specifically characters like Lopakhin reflects his perspectives of disagreeing from poor and beliefs on social class disparity, thereby making the audience aware of his unchanging personality. Gayef’s resentment for Lopakhin’s success is, in fact, evident in the lines “Your brother, Leonoid Andreyitch says I am a snob, a money grubber…” as when Gayef calls Lopakhin a ‘snob’ – it is the pride of a nobleman that is injured. Upwardly mobile peasants aggravate him, and he rarely misses an opportunity to insult both Yasha and Lopakhin, usually with a comical reference to what they smell like. In Act 4, Gayef’s mockery of Yasha is evident in the line “somebody smells of herring!” Whose tone is of resentment and malice. Through Gayef, Chekhov is not only able to demonstrate the theme of social hierarchy but also illustrate the motifs of illusion and its conflicts with reality. The conflict between reality and illusion is furthered through the character conflict of Varya, Ranevsky and the Servant pair of Yasha and Dunyasha. Varya is Madame Ranevsky’s oldest daughter who runs the estate and willingly faces the harsh realities of life. For instance, when Anya asks her about Lopakhin’s proposal, she honestly responds “his mind is all consumed with his deals… I’m the furthest thing from it”. Such dialogues portray Varya’s realism, maturity, and resilience in handling situations, thereby countering the motif of ‘illusions’ which Gayef and Ranevsky stand for. Varya wants to marry Lopakhin but faces a hesitancy in asking him out, and so does Lopakhin himself. This hesitancy between the two characters seems to highlight the presence of social class disparity that existed in the Russian economy. Varya fears of romantically involvement between Anya and Trofimov. In the concluding scenes, we see that apart from Lopahkin, Varya is the only character who is seemingly aware of the auction day and prepares herself for the sale of the Cherry Orchard.Boris Simeonov-Pishchik, like Ranevsky, is in financial problem but he is obsessive of the past. Pishchik is talkative and full of optimism, and he is certain about the money arrangements at the last moment to pay his bills. Another character Charlotte is employed to teach Anya, however, in order to her ends meet, she travelled various places and performed tricks called “the dive of death”. Charlotte became a source of amusement for elite class through the act of performing tricks while she mocked on them. On the other hand, the servants, Yasha and Dunyasha act as representatives of all those serfs who were unable to rise and become wealthy like Lopakhin but yet desired to climb the ladder of social hierarchy. Dunyasha takes the form of a young servant on the Cherry Orchard who represents many of the class issues at work. She is a self-absorbed figure who wants to raise her status in the society by keeping her hands white and acting like an upper-class woman. The line “My hands are white as white, like a lady’s…” outlines her delusional character as she often compares herself to an aristocrat woman despite being aware of her real status. ‘White’ here symbolically represents delicacy, innocence, and absence of physical labour, that Chekhov seems to stress upon. Similarly, Yasha, the manservant, exhibits more or less likely the same traits as Dunyasha. Yasha exploits Dunyasha’s love for physical pleasure and relentlessly leaves his grandfather (Firs) abandoned. Except Renevsky all other characters regard Yasha as annoying and disgusting. Furthermore, his ignorance of his mother and his denial to meet her (“She’ll make me lose all patience!”) depicts how his mother is a reminder of his peasant past – which the servant tries to move on from. Yasha’s unappealing character: his pretensions and his displeasure of work seem to be a result of the new class structure in Russia sorting itself out. Through these Servants, Chekhov is able to exhibit the conflicts between appearance and reality and manifest the theme of social hierarchy. The Russian Emancipation Reform of 1861 played a significant role in creating two conflicting communities of Socialism and Capitalism, which Chekhov portrays through the characters of Trophimof and Lopakhin. Peter Trophimof functions as an idealist who primarily represents the broader community of socialism by consistently bringing out his ideologies on the play. Trophimof was considered an eternal student by Lopakhin, when he speaks, it is difficult not to hear the voice of Chekhov as his tone is full of optimism and admiration, which aims to evoke a sense of duty and responsibility in the audience of the nineteenth century. Trophimof’s monologue in ACT 4 “Mankind marches forward… seek nothing incapable of work” describes the situation of peasants and condemns the Russian intellectuals for contributing nothing to the economy. Similar to Trophimof, the character of Anya takes the form of an ‘idealist’ who reflects the negative effects of the feudal Russia and the aristocrat’s way of life. Anya’s eternal love for Trophimof forces her to blindly follow him despite not understanding the implications of his ideas. However, Towards the end, we see an independent Anya who embodies strong virtues of hope and ambition. Anton Chekhov, through the characterization of Lopakhin and Trophimof –demonstrates two entirely different communities and ideologies. The clash between the two, allows the playwright to manifest the conflict between capitalism and socialism, thereby exploring the different socioeconomic norms that coexisted within the nineteenth-century Russian society.In conclusion, Anton Chekhov makes clever use of the ‘minor characters’ to explore significant themes, elements, motifs and conflicts in The Cherry Orchard. Though minor characters appear to play little importance in the novel when studied upon the larger scale, one cannot ignore their significance regarding both plot and theme enhancement. Chekhov has developed the play in a naturalistic and balanced way. The effects of events are not felt until long after they occur, be the loss of the cherry orchard or the emancipation of the serfs.