Symbolism in “The Cherry Orchard”
“The Cherry Orchard” is a story of an aristocratic family. Estate of that family is going to be auctioned; they are unable to save their estate from auction. Eventually, the servant of that family purchases it. Though it seems a story of Mrs. Ranevsky and her family but in fact she is the representative of aristocratic class after revolution in Russia. In historic context, Russia has undergone a major change; the downfall of aristocratic class and rise of slavery. Anton Chekhov is not one of those writers who do not like to touch social and political issues; he has frankly presented the condition of both the classes; slavery and aristocracy. He has put these classes in juxtaposition through the technique of symbolism. Hence, symbolism, in this play has great importance. It is the vital element of the play. Without understanding symbolism of this play, one cannot enjoy its beauty.
Most of the symbols of this play are dependent on characters. In fact, every character is a symbol; it refers something in hidden words; therefore, it is necessary to concentrate on characters of the play. Mrs. Ranevsky is the major character; she is the representative of aristocratic class; she is a symbol of rich class. Action of every aristocratic family has been depicted through this major character. If we want to know every aristocratic family of Russia, we should study Mrs. Ranevsky’s character. Symbolically, she is a resistance to change. She does not like change and is sticked to his old so-called values. From very start of the play, it has been revealed to the audience that estate of Mrs. Ranevsky is going to be auctioned. But ironically she does not struggle to save her property. She knows that she is in debt yet she does not focus on saving money. Thus, she is also a symbol of irresponsibility. She arranges expensive dinners and lends money to her neighbor despite knowing that her property is going to be auctioned. Mrs. Ranevsky does not like Lopakhin’s idea of cutting the cherry orchard. She loves her orchard and does not want to cut it down. She spends most of her time in remembering old days of her life, in which she imagines the beauty of cherry orchard. This behavior of Mrs. Ranevsky reveals that she does not like change. Thus, she is a symbol of resistance to very important law of nature viz. change.
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. He is opposite to Mrs. Ranevsky in many ways. First of all his class is entirely opposite to her. Secondly, he likes changes. Thirdly, he is not irresponsible; he gives ideas to Mrs. Ranevsky in order to save her estate. Fourthly, even after becoming a successful wealthy businessman, he does not like the luxuries of life. At the end of play, he purchases Mrs. Ranevsky estate. Thus, he symbolizes the prosperous condition of middle class after revolution.
Cherry Orchard title of the play itself is symbolic. For Mrs. Ranevsky, it is the pride of aristocratic class. For Lopakhin, it is the symbol of sufferings. His forefathers have spent a miserable life in the cherry orchard. It always reminds Lopakhin about the sufferings of his ancestors. Moreover, Mrs. Ranevsky is deeply attached to cherry orchard. When she gazes at it, she remembers old and happy days of her life. Likewise, frost on the cherry orchard and the sound of cutting cherry trees at end of the play symbolize the downfall of aristocracy.
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. His speeches are important in this regard. He focuses on equality and considers whole Russia as his orchard. He also emphasizes the importance of work.
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.
There are also many other symbols in the play. Talk about railway tracks indicates the industrial development in the country. Lopakhin’s desire not to marry until success reveals the awareness of middle class and their loyalty to work. Apart from this, the bookcase is the symbol of importance of education; the nursery is a symbol of old memories; dropped purse is a symbol of irresponsibility; breaking strings symbolize the end of slavery; Anya Ranevsky and his white dress is a symbol of purity and innocence; Leonid’s actions regarding playing billiard symbolize escape; Boris Simeonov Pishchik refers the importance of change; he gives lesson that one must accept change; he also suggests that go with the flow in order to survive.
In a nutshell, “Cherry Orchard” is full of symbols. Every world, every dialogue and each character indicate something in hidden words. Most of the symbols of this play are interdependent. Moreover, they are related to characters. It should also be remembered that most of the symbols are social or political. Many symbols differentiate the old Russia from new Russia. Audience notices no irrelevant symbol because every symbol is related to themes of the play. Moreover, these symbols are not just matter of co-incidence; instead Anton Chekhov has very minutely knitted them in his play in order to show the real condition of his beloved country “Russia”. If the play is still remembered and being discussed today, the perfect usage of technique of symbolism is one of the main reasons behind it.