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The Cherry Orchard | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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The Cherry Orchard | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Act 1 (Gayev Talks Too Much) of The Cherry Orchard how does the role of Lyubov Andreyevna's adopted daughter Varya contribute to the play?

In Act 1 (Gayev Talks Too Much) Varya is between two worlds in some ways. She is brought up in a wealthy household, but having been adopted from a serf she lacks the upper-class status of Lyubov's biological children. Varya runs the household and manages the family estate, working hard and acting steadfastly to hold the family together. She loves her adopted mother but worries about Lyubov Andreyevna's irresponsible spending of money as though they were still wealthy. Thus like Lopakhin, Varya is a doer who has risen far beyond the life of a serf. Yet unlike him she was brought up in a life of privilege and has been unable to create a better future for herself in the same way that he has.

In Act 2 (Lyubov Andreyevna's and Gayev's Refusal) of The Cherry Orchard, what does Charlotta's recounting of her life story reveal about her character's relationship to the past?

In Act 2 (Lyubov Andreyevna's and Gayev's Refusal) Charlotta says that she does not know who she is. Her age, where she came from, or even if her mother and father were married are mysteries to her. She remembers that she and her parents were show people performing in fairs when she was a little girl, and that she was later adopted by a German woman, but that's about all she can recall. The past defines the identities of many other characters in the play, such as Lyubov Andreyevna and her family, but the past does not define Charlotta in this way. Therefore she is free in ways many of the other characters are not. She can clown around, make fun of the other servants' pretensions, and march away from them when she gets tired of their antics. Her tenuous relationship with the past foreshadows that change will not have as great an effect on her as the other characters, no matter what happens to the cherry orchard.

How does the tone of The Cherry Orchard shift in Act 2 (Lyubov Andreyevna's and Gayev's Refusal)?

When the servants gather at the beginning of Act 2 (Lyubov Andreyevna's and Gayev's Refusal) the tone is generally lighthearted, even comical, as they relax, play music, smoke, banter, and flirt. Even Yepikhodov's talk of suicide by revolver is comic, a ridiculous, self-indulgent affectation; he pretends to be a tortured romantic hero who doesn't know if he wants to live or die only to make himself look higher class and important. The tone becomes serious, however, when Lyubov Andreyevna, Gayev, and Lopakhin arrive and begin discussing the future of the orchard again. When Lyubov Andreyevna recalls her terrible experiences in Paris, including her attempted suicide, the effect is one of deep sadness. This time, the reference to suicide is serious in contrast to the comic relief of Yepikhodov's exaggerated posturing.

In The Cherry Orchard, Act 2 (Lyubov Andreyevna's and Gayev's Refusal) why does Firs believe that life was better before the serfs were freed?

In Act 2 (Lyubov Andreyevna's and Gayev's Refusal) it's clear that the emancipation of the serfs decades earlier did not appeal to Firs. His security lay in the stability of the old order where everyone had a place; the past, present, and future were unchanging; and the class structure required no decisions about what path he was to take. Firs had refused to embrace this social change, saying, "I was already head footman when the Emancipation came. At that time I wouldn't consent to my freedom, I stayed with the masters." When the feudal system was ended as a move toward modernization, Firs did not let go of his highly structured way of life. He did not seek out a more equal future. In fact many peasants found they were just as bad off, if not more so, than they were as serfs. Now that his old way of life is being wiped out, however, Firs has no role in the new world.

In The Cherry Orchard, Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) what does Trofimov mean when he tells Anya, "All Russia is our orchard"?

In Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) Trofimov is a budding agent of change who philosophizes about big ideas that he believes will benefit the masses. He states that the decay of Russia's upper classes means more freedom for all people to pursue a more equal future. The preservation of the orchard is irrelevant to him because it symbolizes the old world dominated by the ruling class, in which peasants, who were owned and treated like slaves, lacked the ability to define their futures. As he explains to Lyubov's daughter Anya, "All your ancestors were serf-owners, possessors of living souls. Don't you see that from every cherry tree, from every leaf and trunk, human beings are peering out at you? Don't you hear their voices?" For Trofimov the cherry orchard is a symbol for social change that will affect all Russia for the better.

In Acts 1 (Gayev Talks Too Much) and 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) of The Cherry Orchard how do Lyubov Andreyevna's and Trofimov's attitudes toward the cherry orchard differ?

In Act 1 (Gayev Talks Too Much), when Lyubov Andreyevna contemplates the orchard, her vision of her mother reminds her of the upper-class stability that the cherry orchard has provided her family. Her attitude toward the orchard is that it is a positive symbol of past security. In stark contrast, in Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches), Trofimov identifies the orchard with the suffering of the lower classes. He talks to Lyubov's daughter Anya of the "faces" of serfs gazing at them from the leaves and trunks of the trees of the orchard the serfs cultivated with their labor. He sees the orchard as a negative symbol of the past oppression by wealthy landowners of the serfs who worked the land.

In The Cherry Orchard, Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) how is Trofimov's criticism of intellectuals versus men of action an example of situational irony?

Situational irony occurs when there is a difference between what one expects to happen and what actually does happen. In Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) Trofimov believes work is a necessity for social change, but he complains that "the great majority of the intelligentsia ... do nothing, and as yet are incapable of work." However, Trofimov himself is a Russian intellectual—an "eternal student" and tutor—not a man of action. Yet he feels free to lecture Lopakhin about work when Lopakhin is a man of action who actually works long hours to make his fortune as part of the new social order. Of the two characters, Trofimov embodies a person who has big ideas but does not act on them. He prefers to philosophize about the changes that the modern world has ushered in and does not seem to understand the irony that he himself is an intellectual who is a talker, not a doer.

In The Cherry Orchard, Act 2 (Trofimov's speeches) how are Lopakhin and Trofimov similar in their feelings about the concept of work?

As they sit outdoors near the cherry orchard in Act 2 (Trofimov's speeches), both Lopakhin and Trofimov see the orchard as representative of the changing class system. When Trofimov discusses that humans are miserable because "we should just work, and that's all," Lopakhin agrees to a certain extent. As a self-made businessman, Lopakhin himself works hard as an active agent of change in the shift from the old world to the new world. Lopakhin explains, "I get up before five in the morning, and I work from morning to night." He leverages the freedom from his past as a serf, the son of a serf, and the grandson of a serf to embrace the future. Although both Lopakhin and Trofimov are both pessimistic about the present, they feel optimistic about the social changes propelling Russia into a new future.

In The Cherry Orchard, Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) how do characters react to the distant sound of a snapped string, and why?

In Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) after Trofimov criticizes intellectuals for their lofty talk but lack of action, a sound that is "heard as if from the sky" disquiets the characters. It's "like the sound of a snapped string mournfully dying away." Firs remembers that he heard similar sounds once—just before serfs were freed years ago. Firs views that seminal change, sadly, as a big misfortune that threatened his old way of life, so the sound of the snapped string is, for him, a sign of the negative effects of change. Indeed the emancipation of the serfs was the beginning of the end of the aristocracy. Lyubov Andreyevna shivers in response to the sound, saying it makes her nervous. The sound of the snapped string, which is "mournfully dying away," represents another big, pivotal change about to occur in Russia, the end of the aristocracy and therefore of the way of life of the owners of the cherry orchard. For Lyubov Andreyevna and her family, the sound heralds the final breaking apart of their old way of life.

In The Cherry Orchard, Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) how does the stranger who begs for money affect Lyubov Andreyevna and her daughter Varya?

In Act 2 (Trofimov's Speeches) when a stranger stumbles upon the group by the cherry orchard and asks for money, Lyubov Andreyevna and Varya respond very differently. Lyubov Andreyevna gives the man a gold coin. While her gesture is kind, it also shows her carelessness and irresponsibility with money. She cannot afford to give away gold coins when her own servants have nothing to eat. Varya, as the household manager, reacts with alarm because she is well aware of their family's own descent into poverty. When her mother gives away money to the stranger as though they are still living in their wealthy past, it makes Varya's job managing the estate in its present state of impoverishment that much more difficult. Varya is also deeply upset by the appearance of the stranger because he could foreshadow what their lives will be like if the family loses the orchard and any source of income.

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