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Character Analysis in The Cherry Orchard
Madame Lubov Andreyevna Ranevsky: Mme. Ranevsky is kind-hearted, but she can’t quite grasp her new financial situation as her status wavers. She stubbornly insists on retaining the cherry orchard despite a sensible plan provided by Lopakhin that may allow her to keep some of the land at the cost of the orchard’s destruction. She flees from location to location—Russia to Paris and back again—only able to find refuge in the memories of her pleasant childhood.
Ermolai Alexeyevitch Lopakhin: Now a relatively wealthy merchant, Lopakhin is the son of the estate’s former serfs. His memories of a brutal childhood growing up as a peasant contrast with Madame Ranevsky’s, which leads to his complicated relationship with her. Though Ranevsky is often considerate, she is also a representative figure of the class that oppressed him and his family. While it is implied that he has feelings for Varya, he leaves the estate without proposing to her; this act likely serves as the final severance from his unpleasant past.
Peter Sergeyevitch Trofimov: Trofimov is a student who used to tutor Mme. Ranevsky’s now-deceased son. As a result of his education, he is politically active and ideological, valuing hard work and fair living conditions for all. He acts as a foil to Ravensky, accusing her of being unable to face the truth and preferring to live in a beautiful past.
Barbara (Varya) Ranevsky: Varya is Ranevsky’s adopted daughter. Having managed the estate’s finances while her mother has been away, Varya is caught between two social classes: she is neither fully aristocratic nor middle class. She loves Lopakhin, but their relationship goes unacknowledged by him.
Anya Ranevsky: Anya sets the play’s action in motion by bringing her mother home from France. She is in love with Trofimov and is sympathetic to his ideals. Since she is young, she is able to adapt to the changing social climate and has hope for her future.
Character Analysis Examples in The Cherry Orchard:
"It's not necessary...." See in text (Act I)
In the Russian, Charlotta says “ne nada” (не надо) here, which can translate into English as it does here, even though the phrasing is awkward. Since Madame Ranevsky and Lopakhin ask for a trick, Charlotta’s response could more easily be translated as simply “No, I don’t need to do that.” This refusal likely indicates that she considers having to do tasks, like perform a trick, whenever the upper class wants is no longer something she feels obligated to do.
"I ate crocodiles...." See in text (Act I)
Eating frogs is considered a stereotype of French cuisine, which is why Pischin asks Madame Ranevsky if she indulged in this food. She makes a more shocking, comic retort here by saying that she “ate crocodiles.” Her retort has the effect of surprising Pischin, but it also was likely shocking to the audience when Chekhov’s play was performed, because eating crocodile is not something many people are familiar with—let alone conceive of doing. Her retort also tells us more about her character: she has exotic and expensive tastes.
"GAEV: Who does? ..." See in text (Act I)
Throughout the play, Gaev makes exclamations that in the original Russian are simply “kavo” (кого), which can translate as either “whom,” “what,” or even “Really!” when used to convey emphasis. The purpose of these short exclamations, here translated as “Who does?”, are meant to illustrate Gaev’s character: he is older, doesn’t listen to others, and often fantasizes about playing pool rather than focus on the reality of the situation.
"I've several remedies, very many, and that really means I've none at all...." See in text (Act I)
Gaev admits that, like an illness with no proven cure, their problem of debt doesn’t have a clear solution and may be incurable with their current circumstances. Though he sees many possible strategies, none of them are adequate or likely enough to merit attention over the others. His statement is also ironic, given that Lopakhin has just proposed a solution that would likely succeed, showing just how far in denial the Ravensky siblings are.
"if I could forget my past!..." See in text (Act I)
Lubov’s comment here has a double meaning. In the past several years she has suffered from multiple tragedies: the deaths of her husband and son and the betrayal of her new lover in Paris. She laments that she cannot forget these recent tragedies and return to her idyllic, blissful childhood. At the same time, the audience notes that if Lubov could move beyond her childhood memories, she could find a way to save her estate, but she is currently trapped by her own nostalgia.
"Red ball goes into the middle pocket!..." See in text (Act I)
Gaev, having had his emotional display deflated by Lopakhin’s terse response, retreats to his fond memories of playing pool. In this way, past memories serve as a refuge for him when the present becomes too unpleasant to deal with.
"My dear and honoured case!..." See in text (Act I)
That Gaev gets so emotional over the antique bookcase is telling about his relationship to the past. He seems to sincerely view the case as a reminder of past greatness and virtue and grieves—openly and somewhat comically weeping—for its loss in modern times.
"This orchard is mentioned in the "Encyclopaedic Dictionary."..." See in text (Act I)
Gaev’s assertion of the orchard’s relevance reveals that the Ravenskys value the prestige of the orchard and its past greatness more than they ought to. Though it produces fruit, no one buys it, making the orchard more of a burden than a blessing. It would be more useful to the family if it were cut down, but the Ravensky siblings refuse to consider the possibility since that would be equivalent to erasing the family’s history and status that they treasure.
"Nurse has died in your absence...." See in text (Act I)
Lubov’s giddy reunion with her memories and the objects of her past is interrupted by the sad reminder that a figure from Lubov and Gaev’s past has died. The interruption doesn’t seem to phase Lubov. She is more concerned with the things of her past that remain because they represent stability as opposed to the people who do not because they represent change.
"ove you as if you belonged to my family... and even more...." See in text (Act I)
This line, directed to Lubov, displays Lopakhin’s fondness for Lubov despite the fact that her family used to own his. According to Lopakhin, the Ravensky’s cruel practice of keeping serfs is in the past, which is something he is willing to let go of, unlike Lubov. There is also a suggestion that Lopakhin may be in love with Lubov when he proclaims that he loves her more than if she was part of his family, though this possibility is never directly confirmed.
"I'll go and see if they've brought in all the luggage. ..." See in text (Act I)
Notice Varya’s practicality in contrast with the older generation. While she is concerned with action and efficiency, they take time to relax and chat about the past. As manager of the family’s estate, she has been quite busy while her mother has been living with her lover in France.
"Let me remember now. Red into the corner! Twice into the centre!..." See in text (Act I)
With the return of her brother, Lubov indulges in nostalgic memories of games of pool (billiards) they used to play together, even remembering the holes they sent the balls into. Because of the great hold these fond memories have over them, it is clear that Lubov and Gaev are reluctant to see things change.
"Don't care if I die now... [Weeps with joy.]..." See in text (Act I)
Fiers’s devotion to the Ravensky family is profound, leading him to proclaim that Lubov’s return is so significant to him that he can die now. For Fiers, Lubov’s return to the estate symbolizes a return of the estate’s past glory, the possibility of which greatly cheers him. The audience is also meant to be taken aback by the exaggerated response Fiers has and begin to view him as a singularly devoted old man who is unable to let go of the past.
"It may bring luck...." See in text (Act I)
A common Russian superstition is that accidentally breaking a dish, plate, or glass will bring good luck. Varya is kind and quick to remind the despairing Dunyasha that she shouldn’t cry over the broken saucer, but it’s unclear how much of Dunyasha’s crying is due to Yasha’s having forgotten her.
"Oh, you little cucumber!..." See in text (Act I)
This expression, "little cucumber" (огурчик) is a term of endearment. Here, it reveals that Yasha finally recognizes who Dunyasha is. That he leaves quickly suggests that such a sudden display of affection was shocking and perhaps somewhat inappropriate, especially considering that the difference in their gender.
"She's already sold her villa near Mentone; she's nothing left, nothing...." See in text (Act I)
Lubov has been forced to sell her villa in Mentone (or Menton) in the southeast of France. This line expresses the belief that without material possessions Madame Ranevsky’s identity is void. As a member of the upper class, Madame Ranevsky must retain her material possessions in order to retain her identity.
"Why did you tie Charlotta on to me?..." See in text (Act I)
Anya asks Vayra why Charlotte was made to go with her on a trip during Holy Week. Varya’s reaction demonstrates that she thought Anya was too young to travel unaccompanied. Anya is largely considered fragile and precious by others throughout the play.
"Barbara Mihailovna..." See in text (Act I)
Barbara is Madame Ranevsky’s eldest daughter. Barbara virtually runs the family estate, as represented by the large chain of keys that hangs about her waist.
"The nursery!..." See in text (Act I)
As noted in the stage directions, the room continues to be called a nursery even though that name or purpose no longer applies. Madame Ranevsky (Lubov Andreyevna) continues to hold onto the past, which removes her from the reality of the present.
"ou should know your place...." See in text (Act I)
Lopakhin scolds Dunyasha the maidservant for dressing as a lady of nobility. This line is ironic coming from Lopakhin because he himself comes from the serving-class and now dresses in expensive clothes. We can assume that Lopakhin distinguishes himself from Dunyasha in that he has now made enough money to be considered wealthy, whereas Dunyasha remains a maidservant. This line further emphasizes the rigidness of societal divisions between classes.
"I'm still a peasant down to the marrow of my bones...." See in text (Act I)
Lopakhin is pleased he has managed to leave the poverty of serfdom to become a wealthy merchant, like “a pearl out of an oyster.” However, here we see that Lopakhin only defines this change as superficial, associated with the clothes he wears, and not with whom he remains on the inside. Lopakhin’s view of himself as “still a peasant” confirms the idea that while Russia’s social class distinctions have begun to soften, they still very much remain intertwined with how people view themselves and others. Appearances are shown to deceive the “real” identity which lies below the surface in the memory of each individual.
""Little man"... ..." See in text (Act I)
Madame Ranevsky displayed kindness and affection for Lopakhin as a child. However, describing him as “little” is slightly condescending when the dramatic class distinction between Ranevsky and Lopakhin, son of a serf, is taken into account.
"but now everything's all anyhow and you can't understand anything...." See in text (Act II)
Fiers directly states that things after Emancipation are more complicated and nothing is easily understood. He willfully ignores how he was oppressed during serfdom, and his attitude and preference for the nostalgic past align with Gaev’s and Madame Ranevsky’s views. However, Fiers’s role in the play is primarily that of the hard-hearing, grumpy old man who complains about “new things” and whose presence serves as comedy for the audience.
"I write so that I'm quite ashamed before people, like a pig!..." See in text (Act II)
The syntax in this statement is a little confusing. Lopakhin is not saying that pigs are ashamed of people; rather, he is saying that his education and handwriting are as bad as if a pig had written them. This self-deprecation on top of a brief line on his upbringing casts Lopakhin in a sympathetic light, although this could also be interpreted as Lopakhin trying to humor Madame Ranevsky.
"They say that I've eaten all my substance in sugar-candies. [Laughs.]..." See in text (Act II)
This translation may read a little awkwardly for modern audiences. The original Russian (Говорят, что я все свое состояние проел на леденцах...) can be translated to say that Gaev has spent his entire fortune on candies. He says this while he eats another, so the line is likely meant to be humorous, because audiences would see the irony in his words and know that Gaev does not quite understand his own spending problems.
"You must excuse my saying so, but I've never met such frivolous people as you before, or anybody so unbusinesslike and peculiar...." See in text (Act II)
Lopakhin vocalizes his frustration with Madame Ranevsky and Gaev in this passage. Since Chekhov conceived of this play as a comedy, the “frivolous” behavior of these two aristocrats is meant to satirize this upper class. Lopakhin’s frustration shows that he has grown to recognize what proper, businesslike behavior should be in this situation, while the other two have not changed and are subject to their whims.
"I haven't a real passport...." See in text (Act II)
Charlotta is saying that she does not have an official document that states her date of birth and citizenship. Such documents are essential for foreign travel, but here, Charlotta uses its absence as physical proof of how little she knows about herself.
" "The Magdalen" by Tolstoy. ..." See in text (Act III)
The poem the Station-Master reads is “The Sinful Woman” by Aleksey Tolstoy, not to be confused with the novelist Leo Tolstoy. The poem’s “sinful woman” provides a deliberate pointed parallel to Madame Ranevsky, who has cheated on her husband and lived a life of extravagance and excess. Much like the woman of Tolstoy’s poem, Ranevsky’s lifestyle has now led her to the brink of disaster.
"I can't propose to him myself, little mother...." See in text (Act III)
According to societal expectations, a man must make the proposal to the woman. This attitude is still predominant in Western society today. Varya longs to be with Lopakhin, but he fails to properly notice her, possibly due to his infatuation with Madame Ranevsky. As such, Varya is forced into passivity and unhappiness by the prescribed gender roles associated with engagement and marriage. Varya’s fate is yet another example of individuals who are unable to transcend the rules and expectations of society.
"A hungry dog only believes in meat..." See in text (Act III)
With this line, Pischin makes a direct comparison between hunger and money. Just like how a hungry dog can only focus on food, Pischin argues, a poor man can only focus on money. This comparison suggests that Pischin believes that any non-monetary concerns are luxuries for the rich, who can afford to think about other things.