Saturday, 21 May 2016
SYMBOLISM IN "THE CHERRY ORCHARD" BY ANTON CHEKHOV
"The Cherry Orchard" by Anton Chekhov is a play that has been performed in a variety of ways and is classified as a play that uses symbols. In drama, a symbol can be anything used within the play itself to draw an association with something else. For instance, a dramatist could use a rose within the story to represent love between two characters. He could use the house where the characters live to represent the state of their emotional lives. There is a large degree of artistic license when it comes to symbolism in drama, but generally it is used to convey an underlying meaning or association. The major symbols used in the play "The Cherry Orchard" are" the cherry orchard, the nursery, the bookcase, dropped purse, breaking string, Varya's keys, and Fier's death etc.
1. The Cherry Orchard
The central symbol of "The Cherry Orchard" as the title suggests, is the cherry orchard. It symbolizes different things to different people. To Ranevsky the orchard is a symbol of the pride of her family and reminds her of her youth, her childhood, her innocence and her mother. Trofimov's is reminded of slavery of cruelty and of suffering associated with serfdom and hence he views it from the political and moral angle. Lopakhin's approach towards the cherry orchard is largely utilitarian but at a crucial juncture he reveals that it is a symbol of serfdom, of suppression, oppression and humiliation for him and the fact that he has purchased it ensures that it will be destroyed so that the generation that spring form him may live in comfort, prosperity and dignity.
2. The Nursery
The nursery room in the Ranevsky estate may be for an outstanding person without any implicit significance, but for Lopakhin and Ranvesky it is a symbol for their childhood, background and past. It reminds Lopakhin of his origins. It makes him aware that he is "just a peasant"; no matter how rich he has become or how elegant he might be dressed, his social background still remains visible for other people. After all, one "can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear", and his origins will be for good a part of his identity. For Ranvesky the nursery room symbolizes her "innocent childhood". Being in this room, in which "she used to sleep when she was little" seems to bring back to feel a part of that secure, carefree life and makes her feel "little again".
3. The Bookcase
Generally, a bookcase symbolizes the various levels of mind where ideas, concepts, and memories are kept. However, in this play, Gayev's 'relationship' to the bookcase does not associate a particular personal memory with it. He considers it an object which has its own personality. The way he sees it is reminiscent of a hero, as it has for already hundred years "devoted itself to the highest ideals of goodness and justice" and has never deceived anyone. Being true to its "principles", it was a source, from which "several generations of their family" have drawn courage and hope "in a better future". In the course of time a lot of things have changed: some people are dead, Gayev and Ranvesky got adolescent, and the state is going to be sold. However, the bookcase not being subject to any rules or changes thus becomes for Gayev a symbol of consistency and security.
4. Dropped Purse
The dropped purse is a symbol of Madam Ranevsky's spendthrift ways, drop in social status and irresponsible behaviour. In Act 2, while Ranevsky is outside with her brother Gayev and the wealthy merchant Lopakhin, she drops her purse. Gold coins scatter about. Yasha, a young servant, picks up the coins. The frivolous Madam Ranevsky remarks about how she has spent too much money on lunch in town. Her dropped purse clearly symbolizes her drop in social status through her loss of money and also posits her servant Yasha who picks up the money as a thief, or at least parasite, who takes advantage of her for his own financial gain. The scene also serves to bring home the idea of how Ranevsky cannot hold her money, is utterly scattered-brained and irresponsible.
5. Breaking String
The sound of breaking string is an auditory symbol of forgetting, and a reminder of the family's dependence on slavery. It first is heard in the play after Gayev gives a soliloquy on the eternity of nature. Fiers tells us it was heard before, around the time the serfs were freed - a seminal event in Russian history. It is last heard just as Fiers, the old manservant who functions as the play's human connection to the past, passes away, and is juxtaposed against the sound of an axe striking a cherry tree. With its simple image of breaking line, the sound serves to unify the play's social allegory with its examination of memory, providing more graphic counterpart to the Cherry's Orchard's hovering, off-stage presence.
6. Varya's Keys
Literary, a key is a device used to open or close a lock such as in a door. Thus keys are symbols of control, opening and closing. Varya is Madame Ranevsky's adopted daughter who manages the household of the estate, the Cherry Orchard. She always keeps a bunch of keys on her belt. Varya's keys symbolize the control and order typifying her management of the estate, qualities lacking Ranevsky and Gayev. When Lopakhin announces that he has bought the estate, Varya takes her keys off her belt, throws them on the floor, into the middle of the room and goes out. Her act of throwing down the keys symbolizes that she is no longer the mistress here. The play ends with the sound of keys being turned in the locks of the Cheery Orchard.
7. Fiers' Death
Death is an inevitable part of life. There's a good amount of death in the play. It is mentioned over and over. The memory of a dead son and husband haunt Ranevsky. The clown threatens to kill himself. Departing family describes the house as "at the end of its life". And though Chekhov is not explicit about it, we are pretty sure we witness the death of the loyal old servant Fiers; he is locked inside the house as it is boarded up and, in the freezing cold, he has no chance of surviving. Fiers' death at the end of the play symbolizes the passing of the old class system, the passing of the aristocracy's reign on the cherry orchard, and the passing of a phase in Russian history. In short, his death symbolizes the death of the old Russia.
8. Other Symbols
There are many other symbols in the play. The line of telegraph poles symbolizes the modern world that Ranevsky and Gayev reject. Gayev's imaginary billiards game symbolizes his desire to escape. Ranevsky's flights throughout the play symbolize her inability to come to terms with reality. The setting sun, tombstone, long abandoned little chapel and the sad sound of the guitar symbolize the decadence of aristocracy, change of Russian class system. The conversion of the furnished room of 1st act into an empty room, having no curtain in the window and no painting on the wall in the last act, and cutting down of cherry orchard in the final act are also symbols of decline of aristocracy.
The symbols in the play are too numerous to count, but many of them hinge on the idea of the changing social order or the specific circumstances of a given character. These symbols are strictly adhered to the conventions of realism. These are mere incidental appendages to an to an essentially realistic body. Moreover, there is a union of naturalism and symbolism. No matter, what types of symbols are used, Chekhov, through these symbols, clearly conveys the willful neglect and subsequent ruinous decay that within a few short years would soon bring revolution to the bourgeois of Russia. In short, the whole play is symbolic of an olden age that was on its way out.