While reading Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard I found examples of the many types of struggles Russia would face in the 20th Century. There were so many seemingly direct allusions to these struggles that when I remembered the play was written in 1904, I was shocked. Many of these foreshadows are related to sustainability, and The Cherry Orchard touches on sustainability in multiple ways: preserving the environment, maintaining economic prosperity and keeping old traditions and ways of life alive.
Right away the family is facing the critical choice of whether to auction off their family cherry orchard and leave their home or create a development of summer villas to rent out to vacationers. The first option would leave them debt-free but homeless; the second would essentially keep them in their home, but the beloved cherry orchard would be destroyed. The essence of the problem is one that the future Soviet Union would know well: sacrificing the environment to continue gaining economically. Madame Ranevsky resisted this idea of land parcels and cottages through the entire play, however in the end the wealthy neighbor Lopakhin bought the property with the intention of cutting down the orchard and building villas. This symbolized the transition from focusing on the past to looking towards the future, but also underscored the class tensions present in the story.
The undercurrents of animosity between the wealthy and the lower class characters were evident in the relationship between Madame Ranevsky and Lopakhin, son of a serf. Her relationship with Trophimof was also fluctuating, particularly in Act 3 when she gives him a hard time for his idealized thinking yet limited accomplishments. 20th Century Russia will be characterized by Marxism and the idea of class struggles. Chekhov gives glimpses of how the current system will prove to be unsustainable for the future, evolving Russia.
Trophimof is the true voice of the future Russia in the play, making grand speeches on the laziness of the educated and how they must work harder if Russia is to grow stronger and attain all that it wants. He predicts the future of mankind as a march towards truth and happiness, free from the restrictions of property and money. The overall theme of the play could be consolidated into the theme of past versus future. Different characters represent different times, and through the dialogue the reader can ascertain characters’ opinions on matters such as the changing importance of property, the emerging middle class, the industrialization and evolution of Russia’s economy and the future of the class system.