Back to the Classics Challenge 2012: The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
The Ranevaskayas are by far the most frustrating crew I’ve ever read about! Completely indolent, self-absorbed, entitled and any other adjective that describes those who are completely unaware of anybody but themselves can be added to that list. Through the eyes of a modern reader, they completely deserve being ousted from their family home. In 1904 Russia, they’re plight was not an unusual one…let’s be honest, in today’s economic climate, it’s not all that far off from what many people have experienced of late – the loss of their home to pay off debt. However, I found it very difficult to sympathise with the family in the play. It is simply too difficult to understand why a person simply cannot stop careless spending in the face of financial ruin.
The dialogue in the play is direct – except for keeping every character’s name straight (they all have the expected three names and use nicknames throughout to boot) – Chekhov created a drama that is easy to follow. Its action is simple, yet speaks volumes about the intense changes in Russian cultural and social structures.
Chekhov managed to present a family that completely brought ruin upon themselves without judgment. His characters are free to be who they are and therefore he allows his audience to create judgment. Frivolous, silly characters are at once endearing and repugnant. The final axe on the orchard is both expected and shocking. The antithesis of Trofimov’s intellect and Lopakhin’s enterprising ways is marked; and, even though they continually repel each other, in the end, Chekhov acknowledges that one needs the other (through the men’s friendly parting) in order for Russian society to move forward.
Naturally, I was drawn to Anya’s optimism. Her youth obviously offers the one ray of hope for this family that insists on continuing their debauchery once the estate is sold. Yet, I am not completely convinced that her generation will prevail in curing the ills its inherited by careless ancestors.
This play is difficult to relate to because it is about a society so far removed by both time and place. Also, it was meant to be a comedy. A comedy filled with death, financial ruin, the loss of reasoning, jilted love, being used for money etc. etc. etc. There are instances of laughter – such as the maid who thinks herself a princess, the footman who in a round-about fashion insults his master, the aristocrat who beautifully orates to a bookshelf – but, the laughter is mingled with pity for these people whom are all so lost. Needless to say, I didn’t laugh all that much while I read.
Overall, I’m glad I read this classic play. Its themes and motifs strike an uncanny resemblance to many modern dilemmas. As long as you are willing to struggle through the names, it’s a worthy read.