Symbolism in The Cherry Orchard

The nobles in The Cherry Orchard are Anya, Madame Ranevsky, Barbara, Gayef, and Pishticik.  The nobility of the play has fallen drastically, the two families out of money but trying to cling on to a previous way of life in the wake of change.  Anya and Barbara are the two nobles that seem to recognize and accept the new order.  Anya is fascinated by the ideas of Peter and Barbara acknowledges her affection for Lopkhin despite his family history.

Firs, Yasha, Dunyasha, and are all peasants, but have different outlooks on change of social construction.  When the Liberation occurred, Firs refused to leave his master and laments the complexity of social interaction now that the peasants are freed from their masters, calling the Liberation a “great misfortune” (25).  Yasha is an opposition to Firs because he has travelled the continent and seen how to live in civilized freedom, which is better than the Russian “barbarism.”

Lopakhin, Trophimof, and Ephikhodof all represent the emerging class of “others” at the end of tsarist Russia because they are those born of humble origins who raised their status through education.  Lopakhin’s father was a serf of the estate and now his son is a wealthy landowner in his own right, even suggested to be married to the daughter of a noblewoman.  This new class seeks some kind of personal retribution for the enslavement of their ancestors by replacing the symbols of noble authority, like the cherry orchard, with symbols of the middle class, such as the villas.

In The Cherry Orchard, wood represents to the characters a connection with past memory and the grandeur of an older time.  Gayef discovers that a cupboard in the home is over a hundred years old and proceeds to laud it for upholding “the courage of succeeding generations” and “faith in a better future” as well as the riches of the past (10).  This characterization of the cupboard could be interpreted as a reflection of the glory of tsarist Russia contrasted against its place in the modernizing world in which it exists.  It is an attempt of the nobles to hold on to their legacy.

The cherry orchard itself serves the same purpose.  It brings back memories of the estate when it was in its prime, contrasting with the current state of the family that has squandered the money.  The act of destroying the orchard is reminiscent of the destruction of the old social structure, particularly since it is carried out by a man of the new middling class that rose from a family of peasants to become a wealthy neighbor of the Ranevsky estate.  Despite his age and connection to the past, Firs acknowledges the idea because no one alive knows how to make they cherry jam, and therefore it cannot provide the economic support of its past.  As she comes to understand the changing social climate through her relationship with Trophimof, Anya remarks that she no longer loved the orchard as she once did, in effect symbolizing her transition from old to new ways of thinking.  The wood of the orchard contains “human spirits” that were contained in the estate during the time of serfs, and the new freedom offered to humans is echoed through the orchard’s path.  The suffering that Madame Ranevsky experiences at the thought of the orchard being destroyed is a way to “redeem the past” in the mind of Trophimof (27).

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