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The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov: Summary, Characters & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Introduction to…
  • 1:14 Character Groups
  • 3:39 Play Summary
  • 6:52 Analysis: Theme of…
  • 7:58 Analysis: Motif of the…
  • 8:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

During this lesson, we look at one of Chekhov's most famous plays, 'The Cherry Orchard.' After a brief overview of the characters, we examine the events in the play and analyze the play's main themes. A short quiz follows.

Introduction to Chekhov & the Play

Anton Chekhov was a famous Russian playwright and short story writer during the last half of the 19th century. The Cherry Orchard is one of his most famous plays and is also the last.

Interestingly enough, Anton Chekhov intended for The Cherry Orchard to be a comedy, but the director staged it as a tragedy. The subject matter of the play is heavy, but there are comical elements, especially in regards to Madame Ranevskaya's brother's addiction to billiards.

Another interesting fact about the play is that it is the only play in which Anton Chekhov included a gun but never had the gun fired. You may have heard about Chekhov's gun, a dramatic principle which states that every single item put into a play or story should have relevance. Therefore, a playwright should never introduce a gun into a play if he doesn't intend for it to go off at some point. Filmmakers still adhere to the Chekhov's gun rule today, though Chekhov himself broke his own rule in The Cherry Orchard.

There are three groups of characters in this play: the Gayev family, their friends, and their servants.

Character Group: The Gayev Family

Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya owns the family estate with the cherry orchard on it. She is depressed about the death of her son five years earlier and has been living in Paris with a lover who does not treat her well.

After Ranevskaya attempts suicide, her youngest daughter, Anya, 17, travels to Paris to bring her mother back to the family estate. Anya is a good person and loves Trofimov, her deceased brother's tutor.

Ranevskaya has a second daughter, Varya, 27, who is adopted. The play never explains why Ranevskaya adopted Varya, which is odd because it would have been unusual for an aristocrat to adopt a child at the time. Varya is very religious and controlling, and she acts as a housekeeper for the estate.

Ranevskaya also has a brother, Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev, who is funny and addicted to billiards, which is an example of the luxuries of the aristocrat class.

Character Group: Friends

Peter Trofimov is a perpetual student, into left-wing politics, and Anya's love interest. He also tutored Ranevskaya's deceased son, so his presence is hard for her to handle sometimes.

Ranevskaya's other friends include Boris Borisovich Simenov-Pischik, another landowner, and Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin, a merchant who was formerly from the lower class.

Character Group: Servants

Charlotta Ivanovna is the Gayevs' governess. She watches out for Anya. As the daughter of circus performers, she entertains the Gayevs' guests by performing card tricks.

Other servant-class characters include Yepikhodov, a clerk; Yasha, an unpleasant and rude young manservant; Dunyasha, a maid who is in love with Yasha and originally was a peasant; and Firs, an old manservant who is nostalgic for the days of serfdom.

In addition to the characters in these three main groups, there is also an unnamed character who interrupts the Gayevs' party in Act III and a vagrant who asks for money during Act II.

Play Summary: Act I

The play takes place on Ranevskaya's ancestral estate in Russia. After the death of her son, Ranevskaya moved to Paris, but she has returned to the estate at the behest of her youngest daughter, Anya, after Ranevskaya tries to commit suicide.

It turns out that both the estate and the cherry orchard are being auctioned off to pay debts. While at the estate, Ranevskaya runs into her dead son's former tutor, Peter Trofimov, and the meeting stirs up her grief. After she exits the stage, Anya tells her older, adopted sister, Varya, that their mother is in debt. In Act I, it is suggested that the cherry orchard should be cut down to build cottages to make money for the family, but the idea is dismissed.

Play Summary: Act II

Act II opens several months later. It is now the middle of summer and the characters are in a cherry orchard. The beginning of Act II concerns the love triangle between Yepihodov, Dunyasha, and Yasha. Yepihodov loves Dunyasha, who loves Yasha, who toys with Dunyasha's feelings. Everyone leaves when they hear Ranevskaya coming.

Ranevskaya is talking to Gayev, her brother, and Lopakhin, the merchant, about the fate of the orchard. Her daughters appear, along with the tutor, Trofimov. They are joking about Trofimov's perpetual studies when a vagrant interrupts, asking for money. Ranevskaya gives him all the money she has at the moment. Anya suggests that she and Trofimov leave her family behind and start a new life. The idea of cutting down the cherry orchard is suggested again in Act II.

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