The Cherry Orchard | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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The Cherry Orchard | Act 1, Lopakhin's Plan | Summary

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Summary

Lyubov Andreyevna, her brother, Gayev, and their friend Pishchik, another landowner, get reacquainted while Anya goes to bed after the long journey. Lyubov Andreyevna teases Gayev about his tendency to speak about billiard shots, and Varya updates her mother about what has happened while she has been away. Lyubov Andreyevna is overcome with affection for her children and her ancient servant, Firs.

Lopakhin joins the conversation to explain that he wants to help them because they are on the edge of financial ruin. He tells them the cherry orchard will be put up for auction in a few months, but he has a plan to save it. Lyubov Andreyevna and Gayev can generate income by cutting down the orchard and building summer cottages to rent. They will also have to tear down their house. Lyubov Andreyevna and Gayev are appalled and say no. They all discuss the orchard's past glory, with Firs trying to remember the many recipes used to prepare the cherries harvested from it. Gayev moves the conversation away from the orchard as he makes a speech to a 100-year-old bookcase about its historical significance. His nonsensical talking embarrasses everyone. Lopakhin leaves, urging Lyubov Andreyevna to decide soon about the cottages.

Analysis

Several characters reveal the defining kernels of their personalities in this scene. Lyubov Andreyevna shows her kindness in her tender treatment of her family and servants. She also shows her inability or unwillingness to think about a new future. Her immediate rejection of Lopakhin's plan for the orchard hints that this dilemma will not be easily resolved. Similarly her brother Gayev's habit of making silly, wordy declarations is on display. Like his sister he will not entertain the idea of cutting down the orchard to save their home yet offers no alternative plan. Instead he babbles pompously about billiards and bookcases, references to his vanishing past as a leisured aristocrat.

Firs is at his best as a representative of the old world. Throughout the play, the aging servant provides a window to a time long ago. He recalls when the cherry orchard was celebrated, but like most aspects of the good old days this is rapidly vanishing. Firs's admission that no one remembers the old recipe for dried cherries foreshadows the moment when Firs himself will be left behind. Lopakhin also remembers the cherry orchard of the past, but unlike Lyubov Andreyevna, Gayev, or Firs he is not sentimental about it. Lopakhin is a practical businessman. For him it is time to move on to a future that has no place for a cherry orchard that produces so much fruit they can't get rid of it all.

Lopakhin ties all of these issues together when he says to Lyubov Andreyevna, "Your brother here, Leonid [Andreyevich], says I'm a boor, a moneygrubber, but I don't mind. Let him talk. All I want is that you should trust me as you used to, and that your wonderful, touching eyes should look at me as they did then. ... My father was one of your father's serfs, and your grandfather's, but you yourself did so much for me once, that I've forgotten all that and love you as if you were my own kind—more than my kin."

This speech is an important commentary on both the past and present. Lopakhin brings up the fact that there used to be a large gap in social status between him and Lyubov Andreyevna: his family worked as virtual slaves on her family's estate. But now Lopakhin, a self-made, wealthy merchant, represents the new world. Gayev may despise how Lopakhin makes money by working for it instead of inheriting it as the member of an aristocratic family, as he did. But it's clear who is in the more powerful position now.

Lopakhin's speech also reveals that he feels a connection to Lyubov Andreyevna because she treated him with kindness when he was a child despite the class difference between them. In fact he claims it so important to him that he has forgotten how her family used his as serfs. In addition to property and wealth, how people treat each other is another marker of their place in the world and their relationship to other people.

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