Literary Devices in The Cherry Orchard

Indirect Action: Many important events take place off stage, a technique known as indirect action that Chekov was known to employ. Grisha’s drowning, for example, continues to affect Mme. Ravensky despite its having occurred prior to the play’s beginning. What is arguably the most consequential event—the sale of the Ranevskys’ estate—transpires in between acts. As a consequence, the audience must infer what happens through characters’ reactions to events rather than directly spectating on them. This focuses the audience’s attention on the psychological and emotional states of the characters.

Microcosm: A microcosm is a representation of a situation or place on a smaller scale. In this case, the play’s estate and characters serve as a likeness to Russian societal change. Various opinions and archetypes of Russian thought are present—for example, Mme. Ravensky portrays maladaptive yet kind aristocracy while Lopakhin stands in for the class of newly freed serfs.

Literary Devices Examples in The Cherry Orchard:

Act I 8

"I've several remedies, very many, and that really means I've none at all...."   (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.

"Father died six years ago, and a month later my brother Grisha was drowned in the river--such a dear little boy of seven! Mother couldn't bear it; she went away, away, without looking round......"   (Act I)

Anya recounts tragedies suffered by her mother, providing exposition through dialogue rather than having the previous events shown to the audience—a technique for which Chekov was known. In Anya’s words the audience learns that Lubov fled Russia following the deaths of her husband and son.

"Moo!..."   (Act I)

Vayra and Anya’s tragic conversation is interrupted by a nonsensical and bizarre noise from Lopakhin. This is another instance of Chekov’s deliberately breaking up the rhythm of the play for comedic effect.

"I talk French perfectly horribly. ..."   (Act I)

This line uses oxymoronic language for comedic effect. The use of “perfectly” is undermined by “horribly,” demonstrating a quick change in meaning and a comedic tone.

" Lent..."   (Act I)

Lent is a Christian observance that occurs in the six weeks preceding Easter Sunday. In Lent, many Christians participate in fasting, while some also observe spiritual practices such as the reading of daily devotions.

"My dog eats nuts too...."   (Act I)

This line is the first of many apparently nonsensical and comical comments that are scattered throughout the play, contributing to the comedy of it. Lines such as this serve to demonstrate how each character lives in their own (sometimes bizarre) worlds, largely separate from one another.

"ou should know your place...."   (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.

"Lubov Andreyevna has been living abroad for five years..."   (Act I)

This line is an example of using dialogue to explain events that have occurred before the beginning of the play. Chekov often uses dialogue as exposition rather than directly showing events on stage.

"I'm quite sure there wasn't anything at all funny. You oughtn't to go and see plays, you ought to go and look at yourself...."   (Act II)

Madame Ranevsky claims that Lopakhin should not go see plays, suggesting that going to watch life as it’s portrayed in a theater is a waste of time; that looking at one’s own life is entertainment enough. On one level, her advice is ironic because she has yet to constructively examine her own life. On another, Lopakhin’s agreement that “we live a silly life” perhaps serves as Chekhov commenting on the absurd, comic nature of his characters and play. They and their silly lives are just there to entertain; they provide distraction and frivolous entertainment for theater goers.

"They say that I've eaten all my substance in sugar-candies. [Laughs.]..."   (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...."   (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.

"You boldly look forward, isn't it because you cannot foresee or expect anything terrible, because so far life has been hidden from your young eyes? ..."   (Act III)

Madame Ranevsky (Lubov) uses the extended metaphor of sight to represent conflict between young and old, ignorant and knowledgeable. She suggests that Trofimov is only hopeful for the future because he is yet to experience the horrible things in life. Lubov’s pessimistic outlook echoes many of the older characters’ attitudes, and underlines central themes of time and change.