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The Cherry Orchard | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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The Cherry Orchard | Symbols


Cherry Orchard

Chekhov uses the orchard to symbolize memory. The cherry orchard is extremely large; Lopakhin suggests the estate covers 2,500 acres. Given its massive size the cherry orchard is the symbol around which all characterization and action in the play is built. Yet it doesn't exist. It is off stage; the audience never witnesses the orchard. Its existence is limited to the memories of the characters. As such its meaning is also defined by each character's memories of it.

For Lyubov Andreyevna, Gayev, and initially Anya, the orchard symbolizes their personal memories of happy lives and abundant wealth before the threat of financial hardship. The cherry orchard also symbolizes the aristocratic class to which their family belongs. In many cases it is the older characters rather than the younger characters who tend to view the orchard most positively.

Yet the cherry orchard also represents the historical oppression caused by the aristocratic ruling class. Trofimov explains that such a beautiful, expansive orchard was only made possible by the hard work of enslaved serfs. The cherry trees' demise at the play's end signals the fall of the ruling class and the end of that oppression.

Snapped String

The snapped string symbolizes loss. This mournful sound first appears in Act 2 as Gayev comments on the permanence of nature. Firs comments that the sound was present when the serfs gained their freedom. After Firs speaks the final words of the play, the snapped string is heard again as the sound of axes chopping echoes in the cherry orchard. This sad sound represents change and underscores the replacement of the feudal past with the commercial present.

This symbol is unique in that it appears as a sound rather than as an object or as part of dialogue. Its sensory nature contrasts with the cherry orchard, which is referenced but never visualized on stage. The auditory strength of the sound easily overtakes the fading, off-stage presence of the cherry orchard.


Firs represents the old Russian class structure and way of life. A product of the feudal system that ended 50 years earlier, Firs clings to old habits in words and deeds: "In the old days, forty or fifty years ago, the cherries were dried, soaked, marinated, and made into jam." He provides a connection to the past and to the cherry orchard for Lyubov Andreyevna and Gayev. Yet his care also becomes a problem for them to solve as they face the loss of the cherry orchard.

As the cherry orchard is cut down, Firs, too, is cut off from the only life he knows as the family abandons him as a relic of a distant past: "Locked. They have gone. ... They've forgotten me."

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