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The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

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Ancient landed aristocracy is beautifully symbolized by an orchard of cherry trees in full bloom, which surrounds the crumbling manor house. (John Corbin)

The controversy over the interpretation of The Cherry Orchard is surely one of the most intriguing problems Chekhov left for the critics as well as the producers and actors. The problem takes root from the difference between writer's and producer's concept of production. Opinions widely diverge over Chekhov's assertion about the play:

"Not drama, but comedy has emerged from me, in places even a farce."

The comedy in the play is more implied than stated. It is a rare specimen of laughter through tears. The situation presented in the play is basically pathetic. A family is going to lose the roof over their heads. Once the rich landlords, the owners of the house, are now living on the borrowed money and to pay back the borrowed money, their estate is going to be sold under the law. Lyubov and her brother Gayev have sweet memories of their pleasant past attached to that property. Both became very emotional but neither of them has secured certain future to look up to. Luybov is torn between her love with a man and love for her homeland.

Given the pathetic predicament of Lyubov and her family, the play does have a deep undercurrent of tragedy, which the humor in it does not fully overwhelm. The comedy lies in the irony of character and situation too deep for the common audience or even a producer. It has to be realized not without some effort.

Some of the situations and remarks are truly humorous. Yapichodov's worries, for instance, do make us smile. So do Pickchik's concerns and Gayev's billiard cues. But this surface evidence is hardly enough to regard the play as an outright comedy, as the playwright wants everybody to believe. In the play, Chekhov puts the audience's and reader's sense of humor to a trial. But can a playwright of Chekhov's caliber be ignorant of the basic classification of plays?

Some of the critics have come up with sound reasons for labeling this play a comedy. According to one, Chekhov seems to have taken pains to eliminate everything from the play that might introduce any deeper emotional current.

Pathetic though it appears to be, isn't Lyubov's love affair ludicrous in essence? So is Yepichodov's love for Dunyasha, her love for Yasha, Pishchik's flattery of Lyubov, Trofimov's inability to fall in love, Anya's admiration of his thoughts ingoring her need to have his love, Lopakhin's inability to propose Varya and Yasha's deprecating remarks about people of Russia. Writer's words count more than what the critics say. Since Chekhov called it a comedy, it is.

The Cherry Orchard was first appeared on stage in 1904 and Russia was being ruled by Czar. 13 years later, Czar was deposed through revolution and in 1918, another revolution brought about elimination of while royal family and establishment of Soviet communist setup. Revolution and war changed everything. The post war Russia was a new Russia with a new political and social setup. Indication of coming revolution makes the cherry orchard a political and prophetic play. Lopakhin, who came of a serf family, is now a wealthy businessman. Lyubov with a feudal background, is now uprooted individual struggling for survival. The Cherry Orchard, a symbol of agricultural effluence, is going to be converted into site for saleable buildings. The transition indicates the shift from agriculture to business, and the changing focus of economy. It implies a suggestion that the conversion of cherry orchard into a site of lucrative buildings also means replacement of aesthetic sense with pecuniary considerations-money prevails the atmosphere but nobody knows what exactly is going to happen. A sort of restlessness, dissatisfaction with existing order and some initial indications of revolution suggest a greater change yet to come.

Socio-political change has been symbolized in the sale of Lyubov's cherry orchard by Chekhov, but by the time, he started writing the play, this theme had already been exhausted by his contemporaries. Chekhov was not the man who would like to do what others have already done. Neither was he the sort to give up a theme of his choice simply because others had already written on it. He chose this hitherto tragic theme because his comic genius saw the comic side of it. He gave the theme a comic twist by highlighting the humorous aspect of the ongoing process of socio-political change in Russia.

The suspense about the sale of cherry orchard is make pleasant by interesting doings of characters. Lyubov's charity with borrowed money still remains at work. A beggar hardly deserving a penny is paid a gold coin. Lyubov does a little to promote her only daughter's matrimonial prospects. She does not seem to notice her daughter's passionate love for idiotically irresponsive Trofimov. In the worst times, he had lived under her roof, but she lets him wander away homeless now that she is going to get a considerably large sum of money. In spite of her interest in Varya's matrimonial prospects, she fails to persuade Lopakhin to propose to her. She, in short, too soft, rather softheaded.

The Cherry Orchard is about an aristocratic family that is unable to prevent its beloved estate from being auctioned off. More symbolically, it is about the growth of middle class in Russia and the fall of aristocracy. The once-wealthy family's estate and beloved cherry orchard is purchased by a man who once served as a serf on the estate. Lyubov and her family are unable to find a way to succeed within the new social order ofRussia, while Lopakhin profits from the business opportunity and gains personal satisfaction in displacing those who once ruled over him.

The family ignores Lopakhin's suggestion of breaking up the orchard into small plots for country cottages. Lyubov considers the suggestion vulgar saying it is the most beautiful orchard. But all the family remains passive waiting for a solution or savior, which seals their fate. This lack of ability to adapt to the changing social conditions in Russia at the turn of the century was very common, as many wealthy landowners lost their estates to debt.

Varya also remains passive although she tries to save money by feeding servants only dried peas. She wishes to do something but without support of Lyubov and Gayev, she cannot do anything. But her passivity in regards of Lopakhin damages her a lot. Varya is held by social constraints and Lopakhin by business obsession. Their inability to act destroys any hope of marriage.

Lyubov and family appears a whealthy family living on their estate. Their need to keep up appearance threatens their existence. This emphasis on appearance is important to the aristocracy, but in the changing social climate, in which the play takes place, these things become less and less important. Gayev maintains the appearance that he has auction under control, but in reality, he has no control over the situation.

Behind a façade of politeness, there is a quiet tension between those who fear change and those who welcome it. (John Fiero)

Class and generation conflicts are illustrated best through the servants. Yasha is Fir's grandson, yet their wants and needs are far different. Firs is more comfortable with the old social order and Yasha yearns for a new one. Dunyasha wishes to be a lady and to marry a wealthy man. She is free to dream unlike her predecessors, who were locked in servitude. There is now hope among the servant class that they can make money like Lopakhin.

Lopakhin and Varya are in the middle of this class conflict, as Lopakhin was born as a serf and Varya's father was a serf. Lopakhin has now earned a social status but aristocracy will never consider him equal. Varya was adopted by Lyubo so she too is caught in the middle of virtue and not being entirely a part of aristocracy nor of the servant class.

Chekov has a strong sense of social duty, his play implies that a sent of social duty towards others is necessary for advancement of humanity. This idea is manifested in they fact that nearly all of his characters are sympathetic. The Cherry Orchard lacks a villain. While the play certainly criticizes our faults, it only does so to guide us in the right direction. Sympathetic quality of characters, the accessibility language, combined with factors of social changes makes The Cherry Orchard critical and philosophical, yet fundamentally an optimistic play.

Since Chekhov intended the play to be a comedy, he saw it to that each of the characters contributed something to the humor in the play. The purpose is achieved very well without turning the characters into caricatures. In spite of their delight freaks, all the characters are real human beings of flesh and blood.

The tragic elements are simply too diffuse, and like the breaking string, too distant to be distinct or fully understood.

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