“The Cherry Orchard” as Political and Social Play | Anton Chekhov
Play “The Cherry Orchard” focuses on the importance of socialism and change due to which it is regarded as one of the most discussed political and social plays. It was written at the time of downfall of aristocracy and rise of middle class in Russia. Noble class was enjoying luxuries of life without doing anything; it even was not paying taxes. Serfs were there to work for them. The communist revolution was ended in year 1917 but its beginning was very vital. Russia witnessed a social and political change. Middle class started feeling proud on their class as many nobles were unable to defend their estates.
Russia was divided into two main classes. First class was of serfs whereas the second was of aristocrats. Life of serfs was miserable. They were working hard but gaining nothing. On the other hand, aristocrats were doing nothing yet there life was prosperous. Play “The Cherry Orchard” demonstrate social and political change with respect to these two classes. Lopakhin represents the class of serfs whereas Mrs. Ranevsky represents the aristocratic class. Play starts when Lopakhin becomes a good businessman. Ranevsky’s estate is going to be auctioned. Indeed, play “The Cherry Orchard” is about the social and political condition of Russia in those days.
Feudalism was at the peak and middle class was wretched due to their worst behavior. Thus a change was required. Middle class raised voice against it and gained success in throwing away the pride of noble class. It is evident from this play. Character of Lopakhin can be referred here. His ancestors were serfs . They were working hard for Ranevsky’s family even than they were living a miserable life. After social and political change in Russia, improvement in Lopakhin’s condition is witnessed. He has new ideas. He can think freely. His lifestyle has been improved. He himself is getting fruits of his labour instead of giving them to his masters as he and his forefathers used to. On the other hand, Ranevsky family is in danger. In order to pay large taxes, they need money. In case of failure, Ranevsky’s estate would be auctioned. Similarly, Boris Simeonov Pishchik is also facing the same problem; however, he manages to save his estate with the help of Mrs. Ranevsky. Anton Chekhov has captured a clear picture of Russian society in “The Cherry Orchard” and showed the social and political change of Russia in this play.
Some other elements of the play also indicate change in Russia. For instance, time and again industrial development has been symbolized. In order to pay the debts, Lopakhin suggests Ranevsky family to cut down the cherry orchard and make small plots for industrial purposes. This idea actually symbolizes the industrial revolution in Russia. Small gardens and orchards were cut. Plots were made and used for industrial purposes. Similarly, we see railway tracks were added in order to upgrade rural areas to urban areas. Middle class was in hurry to cooperate in this regard. For example, at the end of play when Lopakhin purchases the estate, he immediately cuts down the orchard. He adopts the same solution to pay taxes that he once gave to Mrs. Ranevsky. Sounds of axes can be heard at the end of play. Thus, middle class was in much hurry to cooperate with the State.
Aristocratic class on the other hand was not happy due to this sudden change. Mrs. Ranevsky’s character was remarkable in this regard. She did not consider this change favourable. She was of the view that it had completely destroyed her along with many other noble families. Every noble family was resisting change. Their properties were in danger. These properties were going to be auctioned for the welfare of State. They had very less time to enjoy the lavishness and comforts. Mrs. Ranevsky knew that after auction, she needed to work hard in order to survive. Anton Chekhov also shed light on responsibilities of both the social classes. Irresponsible behaviour of noble class could be observed whereas middle class was much responsible. Negligence of feudal class had been presented in “The Cherry Orchard” through Mrs. Ranevsky’s character. Thus, many incidents are there in play which prove that the “The Cherry Orchard” had been written keeping in view the social and political change in Russia.
In order to prove political and social change in the play “The Cherry Orchard”, Peter Trofimov is significant. He critically evaluates every situation of Russia. Dialogues as well as speeches of this character indicate the political environment of Russia. Through his dialogues, he constantly emphasizes the value of work as a salvation of Russia and convinces Anya that the whole of Russia is her orchard. Soviet critics after the Russian Revolution of 1917 latched onto the character of Trofimov as literary hero who exemplifies the ideals of socialism, often citing his speech describing the trees in the orchard as souls. Hence, through this main character, Anton Chekhov shows the political and social condition of Russia in the play “The Cherry Orchard”.
In a nutshell, though “The Cherry Orchard” seems mere story of Ranevsky family yet it is more than that. The writer has presented whole Russian society in it. He depicts condition of people whether they belong to upper class or lower class. Both types of people have been assessed in this play. Anton Chekhov was a true Russian. He knew the condition of his people. Biography of Anton Chekhov reveals that his ancestors were also serfs, therefore, he knew feelings of lower class.
Besides, the writer has presented reality. He has not favoured any class. Play “The Cherry Orchard” describes author’s political and social opinions but they are not biased. Hence, the play “The Cherry Orchard” has political and social components. It describes many of the political events but it cannot be said that it is purely a political or social play. Anton Chekhov cannot surpass famous dramatists such as Bertolt Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre, Robert Penn Warren etc. in writing social and political plays. It is also true that theme of the play is social and political change as many political events have been mentioned in the play. Audience can see the political and social condition of Russia. It has something to say about society. It also reveals some political unions but the play is not completely a social or political play.