Synopsis of the play
The play, Cherry Orchard was written by Anton Chekhov, a Russian playwright and staged for the first time in the theatres in Russia in 1904, (Moss, 2010). It was originally intended to be a comedy by the author but was staged as a tragedy (Bunin, 2007). The play revolves around an aristocratic family in Russia faced with hardships during the political upheavals in the country at this period. Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya is the play’s protagonist (Chekhov, 1904). At this period, she is living in a family estate with her adopted daughter, Varya who acted as the housekeeper. Her son, Grisha died five years ago. Her estate is in massive debts. Lophakin, a wealthy merchant offers his help them under a number conditions that they refuse to accept. Eventually, the estate is auctioned and bought by Lophakin who orders the cutting down of the orchards as the family is still in the estate, preparing to leave forever, Ranevskaya to be reconciled with her lover who is ill, back in France.
The machine in Chekhov’s garden: a critique view
The “machine” as referred to by Lophakin (Chekhov, 1904) in the play is used to mean the train (Baehr, 1999). The cherry orchard is said to be resistant to change. When Lophakin buys off the orchard from Ranevskaya, he immediately embarks on the process of transforming the orchard into a railway line. He starts by cutting down the orchard and then paving way for the construction of the railway lines. Lophakin does not put much value into the cherry orchard. Being a merchant, railway seems more profitable to him.
The excerpt of the play and its significance
In my opinion, Chekhov (1904) tries to bring out a number of themes from this part of his play. Bearing in mind that the author himself had a rough time when his parent were forced to sell their orchard to pay off debts, it is clear that there is a strong connection of the characters of in the play and the author’s own and the perils in the play had been experienced by the author beforehand. I think this part serves to bring out the pain the author felt with his losses during childhood as well as try to connect the difficulties such people of noble classes face when they are in their down fall. It’s hard for them to blend into the society as Ranevskaya does, for example when she gives out all her money to a beggar out of pity.
The political viewpoint: the resistance to change
The aristocratic society and cradle of people in Russia for many generations had lived their lives in the peak of social class. They valued property and for most part, wanted to keep it that way. In this case of the aristocrat Ranevskaya, she still wanted to cling to her estate even after it was evident that she would inevitably lose it in the end. She fears change preferring to stick to the tested way of life rather than adopt new ways and structure of livelihood. However, she finds that she has no much choice in the matter. Her family was overwhelmed with debt and the only way to save her precious estate was to get into a compromise with Lophakin who would help her pay off the debts. However, the deal structured by Lophakin is met with resistance as it involves cutting down part of the orchard to pave way for the creation of summer cottages. Having the orchard being run by the family for generations, madam Ranevskaya finds it difficult to come into agreement with Lophakin on those terms. Eventually, the family is left with little choice but to sell the orchard to offset its debts.
The machine is a symbol of change; it represents the embracement of modernity. It represents a transition period from the old, rigid, aristocratic way of conducting their affairs to the new, more accommodating and modern methodologies. Lophakin, having come from a lower social class albeit being extremely wealthy has seen this vision of change way before the ignorant Ranevskaya does. That is why he decides to buy the estate from the auctioneer and cut down the orchards to create a way and avenue for growth and development.
The cultural and social conflict
Ranevskaya behaves like the aristocrat she is throughout the play despite the changing times requiring a more liberal approach to life views. Chekhov (1904), describes her as being truly cultured and with mannerisms befitting a royalty. When a drunken beggar asks for money from her, she offers him everything she has amid much protest from Varya. Lophakin, on the other hand is said to have come from a lower class that the Ranevskayas. He is said to be a fabulously wealthy merchant and when he learns of the distress in the Ranevskayas estate, he is overcome with greed and instead of helping them as a friend would by bailing them out, he awaits the opportunity to secretly buy the land and chop down the orchards. Later, the Ranevskayas come to realize, surprisingly that he was the secret buyer.
The theme of Betrayal
Lophakin is described as a good family friend of the Ranevskayas. Initially, all is well until when he comes to realize of the condition of their estate. Greed befalls him. At first, Lophakin is said to have been determined to help the Ranevskayas recover their estate by constantly trying to find other options as opposed to selling. However, his real intentions and greed are manifested later when he agrees to help them under the condition that they cut down. Despite having so much money, he does not employ his resources to help them, rather, he buys them out and proceeds to cut down the orchards.