Symbolism in The Cherry Orchard
“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Our feelings towards certain objects are individual, as everyone associates different things in a different manner. Insofar they can mirror our past, pains, hopes and our ideals. This is also the case in “The Cherry Orchard“: objects as the ‘nursery room’ ‘bookcase’ and ‘the cherry Orchard’ take on their own symbolic life. They all share one thing in common: each one reveals something of the characters’, personalities, feelings and ideals.
Symbol of Nursery Room
‘The nursery room’ may be for a stupendous person without any implicit significance, but for Lopakhin and Lyuba it is a symbol for their childhood, background and past. The nursery room reminds Lopakhin of his origins. It makes him aware that he is “just a peasant”; no matter how rich he has become or how elegant he might be dressed, his social background still remains visible for other people. After all, one “can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as his origins will be for good a part of his identity.
For Lyuba the nursery room symbolizes her “innocent childhood”. Being in this room, in which she used to sleep when she was little” seems to bring her back to feel a part of that secure, carefree life and makes her feel “little again”.
Symbol of the Bookcase
The bookcase has the same effect on her; all her troubles seem to be far away and she feels pure “happiness”. Gayevs’ ‘relationship’ to the bookcase is less personal, as he doesn’t associate a particular personal memory with it. He considers it rather as an object, which has its own personality; hence, though it is “an inanimate object, true, but still – a bookcase”! The way he sees it is reminiscent of a hero, as it has for already hundred years “devoted itself to the highest ideals of goodness and justice” and has never deceived anyone. Being constantly and unshakably true to its ‘principles’, it was a source, from which “several generations of their family” have drawn courage and hope “in a better future”. In the course of time a lot of things have changed: some people are dead. Gayev and Lyuba got adolescent, and the estate is probably going to be sold. However, the bookcase not being subject to any rules or changes thus becomes for Gayev a symbol of consistency and security.
Symbol of the Cherry Orchard Before Sale
The central symbol of ‘the cherry orchard’ as the title might suggest, is the cherry orchard itself. The cherry orchard does not only represent an inanimate object but it is the centre of the characters’ world. Their life could be divided into the era “before the cherry orchard was sold” and into the era after it. With this change the symbolic meaning of the cherry orchard before and after the sale also changes.
The cherry orchard ‘before the sale’ plays a part in each of the characters’ past; but it seems foremost to be part of Lyuba’s mind, through which the cherry Orchard takes on his own symbolic life, as its symbolic meaning changes with the changes in her mind. She “can’t conceive to live without the cherry orchard”, as almost her whole past and memories are connected to it. Looking at it seems to revive the memories of her “happy childhood” and makes time stand still, as if “nothing has changed” in her life. In those days her attitude towards life was innocent and “bold”, as she wasn’t yet “able to foresee or expect anything dreadful”. She felt like the cherry orchard, “after the dark, stormy autumn and the cold winter, young and joyous again”; but now, she seems to have lost this “power of vision” and her naive view of life. That’s might be the reason for her to see the cherry orchard in such an illusory light. It had become a refugee place, where she hides to escape from reality, her “problems” and “sins”. The cherry Orchard for her embodies a kind of paradise, into which her ‘unhappy past’ does not enter, but only her ‘happy past’. She doesn’t want to let go the cherry orchard, because she doesn’t want to let go her ‘happy past’. As long as the cherry Orchard exists, her childhood feelings seem to continue to still exist for real. To sale the cherry orchard would mean to erase that beloved part of her life and thus sell her, too.
However, the irony is that she escapes from her ‘unhappy past’ to a place just like the cherry orchard, which magic only lives through the past itself. In as much as the cherry orchard represents a kind of ‘Garden Eden’ for her, it at the same time also is a “burden”, which rests on her shoulders. As long as she continues to stick to the orchard, she won’t “forget her past” and won’t thus be able to create a new future.
“To begin to live in the present, one must first atone for his past and be finished with it”. Unlike Lyuba, her daughter, Anya, already reached that conclusion and is willing to “leave” this burden behind her; her “love” for the cherry orchard has vanished, as it is part of her past life and has therefore nothing to do any longer with present and future.
Symbol of the Cherry Orchard After Sale
‘The cherry orchard after the sale’ thus becomes a symbol for renewal and a new beginning for the life of each character in the play: Lopakhin purchasing the estate got able to get rid of his origins. “Gay with life and wealth”, he has freed himself from being only the grandson and son of serfs, who used to work on this estate. Now he has become the owner of that place and with the cutting down of the cherry orchard, he is going to leave his past and origins behind him, creating a “new living world”. Also Lyuba’s “burdens of the past” seems now to have become lighter; “her nerves are better” and she is going to leave for Paris, since she might have recognized that it’s finished long ago and that there is no turning back.
Symbol of Dropped Purse
The dropped purse is a symbol of Madam Ranevsky’s spendthrift ways, drop in social status and irresponsible behaviour. In Act 2, while Ranevsky is outside with her brother Gayev and the wealthy merchant Lopakhin, she drops her purse. Gold coins scatter about. Yasha, a young servant, picks up the coins. The frivolous Madam Ranevsky remarks about how she has spent too much money on lunch in town. Her dropped purse clearly symbolizes her drop in social status and irresponsibility
Symbol of Varya’s Keys
Literary, a key is a tool used to open or close a lock such as in a door. Thus keys are symbols of control, opening and closing. Varya is Madame Ranevsky’s adopted daughter who manages the household of the estate, the Cherry Orchard. She always keeps a bunch of keys on her belt. Varya’s keys symbolize the control and order typifying her management of the estate, qualities lacking Ranevsky and Gayev. When Lopakhin announces that he has bought the estate, Varya takes her keys off her belt, throws them on the floor, into the middle of the room and goes out. Her act of throwing down the keys symbolizes that she is no longer the mistress here. The play ends with the sound of keys being turned in the locks of the Cheery Orchard.
Symbol of Snipping String
The sound of breaking string is an auditory symbol of forgetting, and a reminder of the family’s dependence on slavery. It first is heard in the play after Gayev gives a soliloquy on the eternity of nature. Also breaking strings symbolize the end of slavery.
Symbolism in Characters
Almost all characters in the Cherry Orchard are highly symbolic. They point out something unknown world.
Mrs. Ranevsky is the major character; she is the representative of aristocratic class; she is a symbol of rich class. Symbolically, she is resistance to change. She does not like change and is sticked to his old so-called values.
Lopakhin symbolizes the rise of middle class. After revolution, he has become a wealthy businessman but once he was a slave along with his forefathers in the house of Mrs. Ranevsky. He reveals the strength of slaves after Russian Revolution.
Peter Trofimov’s character is too much symbolic. He supports the idea of socialism. Thus, his symbol is entirely related to it. He has been presented as a literary hero of socialism.
The character of Firs and his death are highly symbolic. Firs is a loyal servant of Ranevsky family. He is an old man. A tragic moment, at ends of the play, is witnessed when he has been locked inside the estate. Everyone leaves him. He has been ignored as he never existed. His dialogue is worth mentioning. He says “Life has slipped away as if I haven’t lived”. His death symbolizes the end of slavery. Thus, he has been presented in the play as old Russia, who dies at end of the play.
Anya Ranevsky and his white dress is a symbol of purity and innocence.
Boris Simeonov Pishchik is the symbol of change. He preaches that everyone should accept change and walk with the time.
Other Significant Symbols
There are many other symbols too. The line of telegraph poles symbolizes the modern world that Ranevsky and Gayev reject. Gayev’s imaginary billiards game symbolizes his desire to escape. Ranevsky’s flights throughout the play symbolize her inability to come to terms with reality. The setting sun, tombstone, long abandoned little chapel and the sad sound of the guitar symbolize the decadence of aristocracy, change of Russian class system.
The Cherry Orchard abounds in the magnificent and skillful use of exquisite symbols which creates layers of meaning in depth. All the symbols are interdependent by nature which clearly indicates either social or political condition of Russia. Anton Chekhov, through these symbols, clearly conveys the willful neglect and subsequent ruinous decay that within a few short years would soon bring revolution to the bourgeois of Russia.
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