The Cherry Orchard Summary

The Cherry Orchard SummaryBefore reading the summary of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, let’s have a look at the characters of the play.

The Cherry Orchard Summary
Act One 

Act One opens in a nursery with Dunyasha and Lopakhin discussing the late arrival of a train. This conversation sets the stage for the play, introducing the audience to the financial distress and impending change that the characters are facing.

Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant, shares a childhood memory about Lyubov Andreevna, who has lived abroad for five years. This memory highlights the stark class differences that existed during the time.

Despite being a peasant’s son, Lopakhin remembers Lyubov’s kindness towards him, which indicates her character. This memory also foreshadows Lopakhin’s significant role in the family’s future.

“The Cherry Orchard” by Anton Chekhov begins its first act in the nursery room of an old aristocratic estate in Russia. It is the Ranevskaya estate, owned by the protagonist, Lyubov Ranevskaya, a woman of the fading aristocracy.

As Act One unfolds, Lyubov Ranevskaya makes a dramatic return home from Paris, accompanied by her seventeen-year-old daughter Anya, and her sophisticated valet, Yasha. Lyubov, a widow, had left Russia years ago after her young son’s tragic drowning, coupled with her husband’s betrayal.

Poor financial decisions and an abusive relationship with her second husband marred her life abroad, pushing her into debt and leading her back to the estate.

The family reunion is emotional. Lyubov’s adopted daughter Varya, who is managing the estate in her absence, and Lyubov’s brother Leonid Gayev greet her warmly. However, it’s quickly apparent that the family’s financial situation is dire. Their estate, including the beautiful and symbolically significant cherry orchard, is heavily mortgaged and slated for auction.

Yermolai Lopakhin, a self-made businessman and the son of a former serf who worked on the estate, arrives and proposes a potential solution. He suggests subdividing the estate and leasing plots to construct summer cottages.

Despite his practical and potentially saving solution, Lyubov and Gayev are horrified by the idea. They’re tied emotionally to the estate and the cherry orchard, which they see as a symbol of their noble past and family history. The idea of its destruction and transformation for commercial use feels blasphemous to them.

However, Gaev dismisses this idea as rubbish, demonstrating his inability to accept change and his clinging to the past. Lyubov Andreevna is taken aback by the idea of chopping down the cherry orchard.

Her resistance to this idea shows her deep attachment to the past and reluctance to relinquish her family’s heritage. The cherry orchard is not just a piece of land for her; it symbolizes her family’s history and childhood memories.

Gaev criticizes his sister’s behaviour, reflecting the societal expectations of the time. He considers her marriage to a lawyer, a commoner, as a sign of moral decline. However, he makes this criticism in ignorance, not knowing that Anya is listening at the doorway. This scene reveals the family’s internal conflicts and the impact of societal norms on their relationships.

Lopakhin, who has transitioned from a peasant to a wealthy man, offers a loan if they decide to proceed with his plan. His offer underscores his financial success and his willingness to help the family, despite their past differences. This act also highlights the shifting power dynamics within the family.

Meanwhile, Anya and Varya navigate their complex personal lives. Anya reunites with Peter Trofimov, a perpetual student who was her deceased brother’s former tutor. Trofimov offers her a progressive perspective and ignites potential romantic interest, symbolizing a bridge to a new era.

Gaev reveals that Varya is expected to marry Lopakhin, a pragmatic solution to their financial problems. However, Varya dismisses this idea, indicating her reluctance to marry for financial security. This situation reflects the personal sacrifices the characters are expected to make due to their financial situation.

Pishchik, a landowner who is always in debt, requests a loan, further emphasizing the family’s dire financial situation. Despite their aristocratic status, they cannot lend money, highlighting their financial decline.

This situation also underscores the widespread financial distress during this period, affecting the main characters and their acquaintances.

Finally, Gaev’s heartfelt conversation with Anya reveals his optimism and denial of their grim reality. Despite the impending sale of the cherry orchard, he believes that they can pay off their debts. This conversation reveals his character’s inability to face reality and reliance on false hope to cope with their situation.

Throughout the estate, other characters flutter in and out. There’s Dunyasha, the maid, and Yepikhodov, the clerk, who’s in love with her, as well as Charlotte Ivanovna, an eccentric governess.

In Act One, we are introduced to various characters, each with unique perspectives and motivations. This act serves as a microcosm of the societal changes during this period, with the characters representing different classes and their responses to these changes.

Lopakhin: The Rise of the Merchant Class

The character of Lopakhin, for example, represents the rising merchant class. His proposal to lease the land for summer cottages reflects the practicality and entrepreneurial spirit of this class. His transition from a peasant’s son to a wealthy merchant also highlights the social mobility possible during this period.

However, his proposal is met with resistance from the other characters, reflecting their reluctance to let go of their past and their inability to adapt to the changing times.

Lyubov Andreevna: The Declining Aristocracy

Lyubov Andreevna, on the other hand, represents the declining aristocracy. Her attachment to the cherry orchard and her resistance to Lopakhin’s proposal reflects her inability to let go of her past and her reluctance to accept the changing societal norms. Her financial imprudence and reliance on others for financial support further highlight the decline of the aristocracy.

Gaev: The Optimistic Aristocrat in Denial

Gaev’s character is also indicative of the aristocracy’s decline. His criticism of his sister’s behaviour reflects the moral decline of the aristocracy. His conversation with Anya reveals his optimism and denial of their grim reality, further highlighting the aristocracy’s inability to adapt to the changing times.

Varya: The Middle-Class Approach and Sacrifices

The character of Varya represents the middle class. Her pragmatic approach to their financial problems, as evidenced by her expected marriage to Lopakhin, reflects the middle class’s practicality and adaptability. However, her reluctance to marry for financial security also reflects the personal sacrifices the middle class made during this period.

Pishchik: The Landed Gentry and Financial Distress

The character of Pishchik represents the landed gentry. His request for a loan from the family, despite their financial distress, underscores the widespread financial distress during this period. His character also contrasts Lopakhin’s, highlighting the difference between the old and the new wealth.

The Cherry Orchard Summary
Act Two

Introduction and Setting

Act Two of “The Cherry Orchard” unfolds outdoors on the estate grounds, with the magnificent cherry orchard in full bloom. The change in setting underscores the symbolic importance of the orchard and the natural beauty at stake.

A Gathering Under the Cherry Trees

The act begins with a casual gathering of the characters under the cherry trees. They are awaiting the arrival of a potential buyer for the estate. The tension between preservation and progress becomes increasingly evident, with the family’s financial crisis as the backdrop. While Lyubov, Gaev, and the rest of the family continue to harbour sentimental attachments to the orchard. The need for a resolution to their financial crisis is becoming more critical.

The Cherry Orchard: A Point of Contentious Debate

The cherry orchard becomes the crux of the family’s predicament. Despite its beauty and sentimental value, it’s the main obstacle in their path to financial stability. The family’s reluctance to consider Lopakhin’s proposal of chopping down the orchard to build summer cottages reflects their resistance to change and an inability to let go of their past.

Lopakhin’s Persistent Plea and the Family’s Resolute Denial

Lopakhin, the embodiment of practicality and emerging middle-class sensibility, continues to plead with the family to adopt his solution. However, his proposition is met with stubborn denial, particularly from Lyubov and Gaev. They see the orchard as an integral part of their identity, and the idea of its destruction is akin to a personal affront.

The Stark Reality Unveiled

An unsettling revelation comes through Varya, who confesses to Anya that their mother’s funds have almost completely dried up. She paints a bleak picture of their future, pressing the situation’s urgency. This conversation underlines the contrast between the blissful ignorance of the older generation and the acutely aware younger generation.

Unfolding Romantic Subplots

The love interests among the younger characters add a layer of complexity to the narrative. Anya and Trofimov find themselves drawn to each other. Their shared idealism and dreams for the future form the basis of their budding connection. They embark on a metaphoric search for the ‘eternal student’, signifying their yearning for knowledge and self-improvement.

On the other hand, Varya, who longs for stability amidst the financial chaos, hopes for a marriage proposal from Lopakhin. He, however, is either blissfully unaware or purposefully avoids the topic. It increases the emotional tension between them.

Tensions and Frustrations Amplified

The party scene is a significant turning point in the narrative. Here, we see the tensions and frustrations of the characters amplified. The family’s financial strain is exacerbated by the estate’s looming auction date, announced by a stranger at the party. This sudden interruption heightens the sense of impending doom.

Gaev’s Rambling Speech and the Arrival of a Potential Buyer

Gaev, in a fit of nostalgia, delivers a rambling, almost incoherent speech, glorifying the bookcase and its contents as symbols of their cultural heritage. His speech highlights the family’s detachment from their immediate crisis.

Struggle with Identity and Class Conflict

In Act 2, Chekhov continues underlining the struggle with identity that the Ranevsky family is undergoing. Lopakhin, a former serf who has managed to elevate himself to the business class, is a foil to the Ranevsky family. His pragmatic nature and acceptance of change contrast starkly with the family’s stubbornness and insistence on maintaining their past glory.

Anya and Trofimov: A Bond of Ideals and Ambition

Anya and Trofimov’s relationship develops further, with Trofimov encouraging Anya to break free from the shackles of her past. Trofimov’s speech about the ‘eternal student’ reflects their shared ambition for knowledge and constant growth, symbolizing their willingness to embrace the future.

Varya and Lopakhin: A Love Unexpressed

Varya’s unexpressed love for Lopakhin adds a touch of romantic tension to the unfolding drama. Her hopes for a proposal from Lopakhin are dashed as he remains oblivious or perhaps chooses to avoid the subject. This lack of resolution in their relationship further heightens the uncertainty that pervades the play.

Charlotta’s Existential Musings

The eccentric governess, Charlotta, offers a respite from the tension with her magic tricks and ventriloquism. However, her musings about her lack of identity and uncertainty about her future echo the anxiety that each character is facing in their own way.

Drunken Vagrant

Towards the end of Act Two, a drunken vagrant stumbles onto the scene, disrupting the picnic and serving as a potent symbol of social upheaval and instability. The act concludes with the striking sound of a breaking string, which echoes ominously throughout the estate.

The characters interpret this strange sound differently, but all agree it foretells significant change. The breaking string is a powerful metaphor for the tension reaching the breaking point and serves as a harbinger of the imminent dissolution of the old ways.

A Climax of Mixed Emotions

The act culminates with mixed feelings of dread, frustration, and a glimmer of hope. The family and servants retreat indoors, leaving behind the cherry orchard bathed in moonlight. The beautifully haunting image of the cherry orchard encapsulates the family’s struggle between past and future, legacy and survival.

The Cherry Orchard Summary
Act Three

Introduction and Setting

In Act Three of Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”, the action occurs in a sitting room in Lyubov Ranevskaya’s estate as they await news from the auction. The drawing room in Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevsky’s estate was converted into a makeshift auction room. It’s the day of the auction, the moment of truth for the Ranevsky family and their beloved estate, the result of which will determine their future.

A Tense Prelude

As the action commences, there’s an undercurrent of nervous energy among the characters. Everyone anxiously waits for Gaev and Lopakhin to return from the auction that will seal the cherry orchard’s fate. A distant breaking string sound heightens the suspense, symbolizing impending doom

Coping Mechanisms and Denial

Different characters deal with this anticipation in various ways. Lyubov clings to her optimism and denial. She is convinced that her wealthy aunt in Yaroslavl will come to their rescue. Gaev, on the other hand, resorts to his typical habit of making grand speeches about unrelated subjects to escape from the harsh reality.

Dynamics of Love and Class Distinction

The uncertainty and tension do not halt the unfolding of personal dramas. Varya’s unrequited feelings for Lopakhin remain a significant subplot. Lopakhin, however, remains oblivious or intentionally avoids the issue due to the vast social gap between them. Meanwhile, Trofimov and Anya’s bond deepens. It symbolizes a departure from the past towards a new era.

An Array of Emotions

The act is a kaleidoscope of emotions – from Lyubov’s nervous optimism to Firs’ heart-wrenching nostalgia, from Varya’s pent-up frustration to Anya’s youthful idealism, and from Charlotta’s whimsical distractions to Trofimov’s fervent intellectualism. The entire spectrum is laid bare, making the audience acutely aware of the emotional gravity of the situation.

The Unveiling of the Auction Results

The pivotal moment arrives with Lopakhin and Gaev’s return from the auction. The room is suspenseful as Lopakhin reveals that he has bought the cherry orchard. This announcement strikes like a lightning bolt, marking a significant shift in the narrative. It’s a victory for the new order and an undeniable reality check for the Ranevsky family, marking the end of their era.

Lopakhin’s Triumphant Moment

Lopakhin’s exultation is evident as he revels in his purchase. His triumph not only signifies his personal success story of rising from a serf’s son to a wealthy landowner but also indicates the dramatic societal shift taking place – the ascent of the bourgeoisie and the decline of the aristocracy. His initial plan to save the estate by chopping down the cherry orchard and building summer villas now seems imminent.

Lyubov’s Devastation and Symbolic Farewell

Lyubov, already in emotional turmoil, is devastated by the news. Her beloved cherry orchard, an emblem of her past, memories, and aristocratic identity, is now in the hands of a man whose father and grandfather once served her family. As she bids a tearful farewell to her home, she’s also saying goodbye to her past, symbolizing the end of an era.

A Desolate Victory

Lopakhin’s announcement of the cherry orchard’s purchase does not result in a joyous victory. Instead, the air is filled with a sense of loss and desolation. The household members are in shock, and Lopakhin, despite his triumph, is seen to be uncomfortably celebrating his victory.

Love Unfulfilled: Varya and Lopakhin:

The act does not close Varya’s hopes for a proposal from Lopakhin. Lopakhin’s inability or unwillingness to ask for Varya’s hand in marriage adds tension. It casts further sadness over the unfolding narrative.

Anya and Trofimov: The Dawn of New Ideals

In contrast to the despair and dejection, Anya and Trofimov’s relationship develops into a beacon of hope and the dawn of new ideals. Their connection represents a departure from the confines of the past and a movement towards a future where identity isn’t bound by social status or material possessions.

Surreal Interludes

Amid the dramatic developments, Chekhov introduces surreal elements through Charlotta’s magic tricks and Yepikhodov’s clumsiness. These serve as momentary diversions, providing a hiatus from the tension-filled atmosphere.

Lyubov’s Desperation and Hopelessness

The impact of the auction’s result leaves Lyubov feeling desperate and hopeless. The cherry orchard, a symbol of her family’s heritage and prestige, now belongs to Lopakhin, the son of a former serf. The symbolism is not lost on Lyubov, and her grief reflects the profound changes within Russian society at the turn of the century.

Firs: A Symbol of a Bygone Era

Firs, the old servant embodies the nostalgia and the resistance to change. His lament over the sale of the cherry orchard and his anecdotes about the past serve as a poignant reminder of the social transformation that is taking place.

The Cherry Orchard Summary
Act Four

Introduction and Setting

The final act of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” returns us to the nursery in the Ranevsky estate. Unlike the start of the play, the mood now is one of hurried preparation and quiet resignation as the family and servants scramble to pack up their belongings before leaving the estate for good.

A Farewell to Their Past

The act begins with the once cheerful and vibrant nursery appearing abandoned and lonely. The family’s items and furniture have been sold, signifying their final departure from their cherished home. Each character reacts differently to this goodbye, and the air is filled with a profound sense of loss.

The Sound of Progress

Throughout the act, the audience hears the distant sound of axes chopping down the cherry trees, a reminder of the harsh reality of Lopakhin’s victory and a symbol of progress overriding tradition. The sounds serve as a chilling backdrop to the characters’ emotional turmoil.

Lopakhin and Varya: The End of an Unfulfilled Romance

Lopakhin’s rise to power and wealth, signified by his estate purchase, is contrasted with his continued inability to express his feelings to Varya. Despite having ample opportunity, Lopakhin cannot propose to Varya in a painfully awkward scene. This lack of resolution between the two adds a touch of bitterness and regret to their story. 

Anya and Trofimov: Youthful Idealism Amidst Despair

In contrast to the general despair, Anya and Trofimov represent hope and the future. Their relationship, founded on shared ideals and aspirations, continues to flourish. Trofimov’s declaration that he will strive to build a new society and Anya’s acceptance of this mission symbolize progress and the dawning of a new era.

Lyubov’s Emotional Struggles

Lyubov’s struggles reach a peak in this act. With the loss of her beloved orchard and the knowledge of her family’s irreversible decline, she faces a slew of emotions – despair, regret, loss, and a faint glimmer of hope for a fresh start.

Firs: Trapped in a Forgotten Time

One of the most heartbreaking moments of the act, and indeed the play, involves Firs. He is Forgotten and left behind as the family rushes off to catch their train. Firs symbolizes the dying age of the aristocracy. He resigns to his fate, lying down and presumably dying alone in the deserted house. He becomes a tragic embodiment of a time forgotten and discarded.

Lopakhin’s Final Moment of Triumph

The act and the play ends with Lopakhin’s final moment of triumph. After spending the day overseeing the chopping down of the cherry trees, he stands alone in the nursery, a poignant representation of the social changes sweeping across Russia. His triumph, however, is laced with a hint of sadness and uncertainty about the future.

The End of an Era, the Dawn of a New Age

Act four concludes the narrative arc of “The Cherry Orchard” with a profound mixture of nostalgia, despair, hope, and change. The fall of the Ranevsky family and their beloved orchard signifies the end of an era, while the rise of Lopakhin marks the beginning of a new age.

Chekhov masterfully wraps up the play with a haunting image of Firs, lying alone and forgotten, as the sound of the cherry trees being chopped down echoes in the background. The final act is a stirring commentary on change – the inevitability.

Anya’s Newfound Hope

Anya’s character, brimming with youthful hope and optimism, shines through in this act. Free from the shackles of the past, she looks forward to a new beginning, illustrating the resilience of youth and the inevitability of change.

Petya Trofimov: The Voice of New Ideals

Trofimov, the perpetual student, maintains his ideological stand, urging Anya and the others to embrace the new order and shed their past. He remains a vocal advocate for progress and societal evolution, embodying the philosophical and moral compass of the new era.

Charlotta’s Isolation

Charlotta, the eccentric governess, faces an uncertain future. With no place to go and no family to call her own, she becomes a tragic figure, representing the displaced individuals in rapidly changing societies.

The Fall of the Aristocracy

Lyubov Andreyevna and Gaev’s departure marks the symbolic fall of the aristocracy. Their reluctance to let go of the past and adapt to the changing times leads to their downfall, offering a powerful critique of the Russian nobility’s inertia.

The Fate of the Servants

The fate of the servants underscores the social upheaval taking place. Dunyasha, the maid, must seek employment elsewhere while Yasha, Lyubov’s valet, decides to accompany her back to Paris. These individual decisions further underline the impending changes.

Lopakhin’s Moment of Contemplation

As the family departs, Lopakhin lingers in the nursery, contemplating his journey from a peasant to an estate owner. This scene provides a contrast to his earlier jubilation and emphasizes the sense of responsibility and the challenges that lie ahead for him.

Firs’ Tragic End

The play concludes on a poignant note with Firs, forgotten and left behind, resigning to his fate. His tragic end is deeply symbolic of a past era fading into oblivion. His monologue, followed by the eerie silence, except for the sound of a string breaking in the distance, leaves a lasting impression.

 A Melancholy Goodbye and Uncertain Beginnings

When the curtain falls on Act 4 of ‘The Cherry Orchard,’ it leaves the audience feeling a profound melancholy interspersed with uncertain hope. The harsh reality of change has replaced the grandeur of the past. The cherry orchard, once a symbol of aristocratic privilege, has been sacrificed at the altar of progress.

With hopes, dreams, and disappointments, the characters step into an uncertain future, embodying the tides of change sweeping Russia in the early 20th century. This act, steeped in symbolism, bids a heartbreaking farewell to a bygone era while apprehensively welcoming the dawn of a new age.

 

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