1. What is Madame Ranevsky’s character flaw? How is it expressed, and how does it affect the outcome of the play?
The character flaw found in Madame Ranevsky is that she is a person of excess. She demonstrates an enormous amount of emotion over things that do not require any emotion, and very little emotion about things that do. This is demonstrated early on in the play when she is told of the death of her old friends. Rather than display emotions of sadness and grief over their passing, she instead becomes very quiet, with none of her usual dramatic emotional flair being displayed. Thus, it becomes clear that she is a person incapable of dealing with adversity and change. This was the case for many of the aristocrats in Russia following the end of serfdom. They were unwilling to change with the times, and instead attempted to create a world around themselves in which nothing bad ever happened.
2. Describe the history of the relationship between Madame Ranevsky and Lopakhin. How does it change? What does this say about the historical period at the time of the play?
As a child, Lopakhin was a serf whom the wealthy Madame Ranevsky took into her home, after discovering he was abused by his father. However, at the time of the play, great changes have occurred in Russia, where the play is set. Serfdom is now at an end, and Lopakhin is now a wealthy landowner and is now the equal, at least socially and economically, to his former mistress Madame Ranevsky. However, Lopakhin still views himself as a peasant, despite his newfound wealth. He is well aware that he is part of the nouveau riche class, while Madame Ranevsky is a true aristocrat. This change in their relationship – from one of a serf being subservient to his mistress to one of social and economic equality – demonstrates the change in Russian society, from one in which serfdom existed to one in which it did not.
3. What does the cherry orchard signify? Discuss three characters and how their views of the orchard are similar or different.
The cherry orchard is the object around which the play revolves. It is representative of nature, and how it goes through a cycle of change. It is also something of a relic, a symbol of a past time that cannot be recaptured. There are three characters that share a similar view of the orchard as a symbol of the past. First is Madame Ranevsky, who views the orchard as a treasure of her comfortable childhood. Next is Trophimof, who sees the orchard as a symbol of all the suffering of the serfs who lived, worked, and died on the Ranevsky estate. Finally, there is Lopakhin, who views the orchard as a symbol of his difficult childhood as a serf. However, with regard to the issue of change, the orchard is viewed by Lopakhin as a symbol of his goal of gaining more wealth now that he is no longer a serf, but rather a member of the nouveau riche class.
4. Compare and contrast Trophimof and Anya’s relationship with Madame Ranevsky and her lover Paris.
The relationship between Trophimof and Anya is one that is based more on their similar intellects rather than on grand feelings of passion. But that is all they share. At the end of the play, the two go their separate ways. The relationship between Madame Ranevsky and her lover has nothing to do with love either. Rather, it is an abusive relationship that she fled from. However, she ends up returning to her abusive lover. Yet, both relationships are the same in that Trophimof and Madame Ranevsky each have the opportunity to do something productive about their respective relationships, but choose not to take advantage of that opportunity.
5. What is Firs’ significance in the play?
Firs is the oldest character in the play, and as such, is used to symbolize the past. His entire life was spent on the Ranevsky estate as a serf. However, unlike other former serfs – such as Lopakhin – who move on from the estates they worked on to better lives, Firs remains on the estate because he has nowhere to go. At the end of the play, when he is locked in the house and seems to die, he serves as a symbol of the passing of the old order in Russia. His passing is representative of the last phase in a long process of change in Russian society, beginning with the ending of serfdom and former serfs gaining wealth and power, then the aristocracy losing its power, and finally ending with the death of those who continued to live according to the old system despite the change occurring around them.
6. What is the significance of the exchange between Trophimof and Lopakhin in Act 4?
The goodbye shared between Trophimof and Lopakhin is unique. Although it seems as if they do not have much use for each other during the course of the play, at the end, it becomes apparent that they share a mutual respect for one another. Thus, when they say goodbye to one another, each offers to the other the best thing they can: Trophimof offers his wisdom while Lopakhin offers money. The goal of the exchange between the two – to demonstrate how sometimes people who seem so different actually have a great deal in common – is successfully achieved.
7. Discuss some ideas that you discovered from reading Chekhov.
Reading this play by Chekhov was quite enlightening. It enables one to see just how difficult it is for some people to adjust to change, particularly when it concerns a way of life that one was accustomed to living, and thus took for granted. Furthermore, it provides an interesting plot, used by the author to demonstrate how life is a continual cycle, with good times and bad times that all people must endure, regardless of their station in life. However, it is clearly apparent that Chekhov did not mean this to be viewed as a tragedy. Even the play ends with what seems to be a death, in reality, the play is ending on a high note. Practically all the characters are about to embark on a new chapter in their lives, and this is most likely the point Chekhov is trying to make: that life is nothing more than a journey, a journey in which one must be able to withstand whatever adversity comes his or her way.