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More Than Cherry Trees Blossom In Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard

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As myriad societies and civilizations have exemplified, hope inspires change. In the early 1800s, all that the Russian commoners could do was hope, for they had little else. After a series of reforms, most importantly the Emancipation Declaration of 1861 that freed the serfs, the masses realized their discontent and began to do something about it. Hoping to lead a happier life free from the repressive elite and bureaucracy, Russian lower and middle classes entered into the emerging free-market economy, and thus began the social change that would eventually lead to an uprising analogous in many ways to the French Revolution. Anton Chekhov, an accomplished short story writer and playwright of the late nineteenth century, recognized this enduring class shift throughout his motherland and praised the work ethic of his fellow citizens, as Hugh Short affirms. “[Chekhov] was convinced of the need for unceasing striving, a belief that pervaded his life and work; and he had a faith that the future would bring a better life for humankind.” Evidently, the playwright was a proponent for improvement and embraced effort, even during his last year alive. In his final play, The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov auspiciously depicts this social change at the beginning of Twentieth Century Russia through three unique and different perspectives of the societal hierarchies of the time.

In the microcosm of the Ranevsky estate, Chekhov portrays this bourgeois transformation through his exaggerated cast and overtly carefree elite. Facing financial hurdles, the Ranevsky family fails to pay the mortgage on the estate. Even as the monetary troubles mount, Liubov continues her relentless spending and wastrel habits. In contrast to the upper class extravagance, Trofimov dreams of equality and hopes that someday everybody will work hard together. He cannot even enjoy the orchard on which his ancestors have toiled because, as Sally Buckner states, he keeps “thinking of his peasant ancestors, to whom every tree must have been a symbol of oppression.” Even the scholar could not persuade the family to take action and keep their estate; they remain dormant. Although Gaev has plenty of schemes and ideas, he does not have the perseverance to carry them out successfully. Instead of working, he sits around making pool references and thinking about everybody else’s misconduct. Finally, after Lopakhin struggles incessantly to persuade Liubov and Gaev to lease parts of the estate as vacation spots, the former peasant buys the house and land with plans to do just that. The majestic and enormous cherry orchard that has been the prize of Liubov and of her ancestors thus changes hands once and for the final time. Each individual illustrates his own feelings about the sale of the estate and the destruction of the cherry orchard, and these characters culminate to create an overall understanding of the ongoing social change. Francis Fergusson asserts, “The characters all suffer the passing of the estate in different ways, thus adumbrating this change at a deeper and more generally significant level than that of any individual’s experience” (89). These idiosyncratic ideas permeate The Cherry Orchard and grant the reader a profound understanding of the changing times.

Just as the individuals in The Cherry Orchard illustrate their own thoughts on the passing of the estate, the well-defined social classes on the Ranevsky manor present further insight into the loss of the asset. All of Chekhov’s cast can be divided into three discrete groups: the lower class, consisting mostly of the servants; the middle class, made up of family friends; and the upper class, mainly the Gaev family. Each echelon illustrates a unique perspective on the series of events happening around the manor and cherry orchard. J. L. Styan agrees that Chekhov divides the people of the cherry orchard into classes and further argues that he does this “so that the orchard and its sale take on a different meaning for each group.” He continues, “These characters demonstrate the transition between the old and the new, bringing life to Chekhov’s idea of an evolving social structure.” Their reaction to the cherry orchard’s destruction, paired with their insights, lend distinctive viewpoints into the changing times taking place all over Russia.

Every class is vital to explaining the social changes in Russia, but the “servant” class illustrates its frustration most in its traditional role of society. Firs, Yasha, Dunyasha, Yepikhodov, and Charlotta are servants to the Gaev family and see no hopes of eclipsing this demeaning status, as much as many of them would like to. Their working conditions and deep-rooted identities cloud their hopes of reaching a higher status; therefore, the operational members on the estate do nothing to unite as they work blindly to sustain their jobs. Styan believes that as the servants are displaced from their home, they strain to achieve a new social status; however, for some, future security is uncertain. Nearly all of the working class hopes for better work, pay, and luxuries, but they are too nearsighted to acquire these things.

The only servant delighted over the sale of the Ranevsky estate is Yasha, the young valet. He cannot wait to live in Paris and to free himself from the boredom of Russian life. Even though he engages in crude sexual engagements with Dunyasha, Yasha has no real feelings for her and eventutally leaves her behind to marry Yepikhodov, the poor clerk. Yasha shows no remorse and even considers himself part of the cultural elite even though he is far from it. In reality, he does little to help the family.

In contrast, his elder, Firs, is completely loyal to Gaev and his kin. The eighty-seven-year-old footman is a dying remnant of the antique social order, as he longs for the old days when he was an important servant on the orchard when “cherries were exported to Moscow” (290). To Firs, the large cherry orchard and lush estate represent “the flourishing economic system which secured class distinctions and social stability” (Lister). He is old enough to remember that serfs used to cultivate the cherry trees, but he is too naÐ"Їve to accept that they are no longer doing so. Firs can be quirky, mumbling and carrying on in his isolated fantasy world, but his allegiance to the family is strong and sound. Once the family departs and leaves him behind, Firs remains stolid and unaltered. Sally Buckner concurs that Firs’s life now is aimless, and the old servant can now die peacefully. He is “alone . . . unaffected. Departure of the family was the end of this old servant’s

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