Anton Chekhov’s Portrayal of 18th Century Russian Culture in The Play The Cherry Orchard

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About this sample


Words: 813 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Words: 813|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

The Cherry Orchard is a play written by Anton Chekhov in 1903. It concerns an aristocratic Russian landowner who returns to her family estate (which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard) just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. Unresponsive to offers to save the estate, she allows its sale to the son of a former serf; the family leaves to the sound of the cherry orchard being cut down. The story presents themes of cultural futility – both the futile attempts of the aristocracy to maintain its status and of the bourgeoisie to find meaning in its newfound materialism. It dramatises the socio-economic forces in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, including the rise of the middle class after the abolition of serfdom in the mid-19th century and the decline of the power of the aristocracy.

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The play projects the cultural conflict of the turn of the twentieth century of Russia. With a historical allusion, Chekhov exhibits the changing Russia with "slice of life" in his play. The play is not only a depiction of Russian life but also an understatement of changing traditional value. In the play, each character has his or her own personality, which symbolizes their individual social levels in the Russian society. But these characters distinguish themselves into two sides, which are conservators and investors; therefore, they conflict each other in opinion.

The following developments will begin with an outlook of The Cherry Orchard to acknowledge the basic concept of the play. The second part is culture in change that explains historical background of modern Russia. Third by a contrasting method, the main idea of this part is an illustration of conflict. And, in the fourth section, explaining symbolic meaning of The Cherry Orchard is an approach to highlight the conflict. Finally, the prospective development of different groups of characters is another contrast that echoes their attitudes in the beginning.

In The Cherry Orchard, the dramatic development is parallel with the historical evolution of Russia in the end of the nineteenth century. Chekhov divides the people of the orchard in different ways so that the orchard and its being sold carry a symbolic meaning for each group. Basically, there are three groups of charaters in The Cherry Orchard. The first group is the characters that dominate with money and power; Ranevsky and Lopakhin belong to this category.

The orchard, to them, is merely a tool for investment. The second group is a sort of person to understand the change of situation but they have no power to prevent the orchard from being sold. These learned people have their sense of duty. Trofimov is a typical one. As to the third type, neither do they have knowledge nor power but they feel what is happening and feel disappointed about it. Firs is such a kind of person.

The framework of The Cherry Orchard has its chronological development, or historical evolution. The framework reveals the changing traditional culture of Russia. The action of the play is measured by the outside pressure on the estate. In Act One, the cherry orchard is in danger of being sold, in Act Two it is on the verge of being sold, in Act Three it is sold, and in Act Four it has been sold. Each act symbolizes every stage of change. In Russian history, the emancipation of the serfs and the development of industrial capitalism exerted considerable influence on the various spheres of Russian cultural life during the reigns of Alexander II and Alexander III. In 1712, St. Petersburg became the new capital of Russia. With geographic advance of seaport position and the promotion of empire rulers, the western civilization was easily imported from abroad. Some elements of the importation modernized Russia and made the country became a strong one. But some changed people's thought and reconstructed cultural pattern. New ideas, such as liberty and capitalism kept spreading and influencing Russia. As a result, on 19 February 1861 the emancipation of the serfs was decreed. Serfs were liberated. With the increasing of their wealth, they gradually promoted their social positions and had powerful influence.

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In the end of the nineteenth century, the capitalism was in conflict with the traditional value. There was a conflict between new and old, ideal and reality, as well as hope and predicament, which had troubled Russians for a long time. Thus, in the play, Ranevsky and Lopakhin, have very practical reasons to deal with the real estate. Ranevsky is highly esteemed in her social position; whereas, her luxurious life leads her family to suffering. In order to survive, she must sacrifice the ancient heritage, the cherry orchard. And Lopakhin is the one who purchases the orchard. Ironically, he used to be a servant of the family. Their merchandise suggests that the new idea, which is capitalism, is destroying the old system of Russia. The new culture endangers their co-existing environment.

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Anton Chekhov’s portrayal of 18th century Russian culture in the play The Cherry Orchard. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Anton Chekhov’s portrayal of 18th century Russian culture in the play The Cherry Orchard.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2019,
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Anton Chekhov’s portrayal of 18th century Russian culture in the play The Cherry Orchard [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Feb 27 [cited 2024 Apr 13]. Available from:
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