She brought me over to the wash-stand here in this very room, the nursery as it was. 'Don't cry, little peasant,' she said. "You'll soon be as right as rain." [Pause]. Little peasant. It's true my father was a peasant, but here am I in my white waistcoat and brown boots, barging in like a bull in a china shop. The only thing is, I am rich.
The speaker here is Lopakhin, in Act One. He is waiting in the nursery, with Dunyasha, for Ranevsky to arrive from the train station. The "she" in the passage is Ranevsky, and the passage does a great deal to characterize both her and Lopakhin, and the relationship between them. This relationship is the central relationship in The Cherry Orchard. The quote is taken from a longer passage in which Lopakhin worries about falling asleep in the nursery, when he should have been going out to meet Ranevsky at the train station. This worrying, plus his reference to himself as a "bull in a china shop," show Lopakhin to be self-conscious about his humble origins and lack of social graces. But he knows he has social status, and as if to demonstrate his bluntness, he reminds himself of where this status comes from—his money. When he talks about Ranevsky, he remarks, as everyone will do, on her kindness. But there is a note of tension here; he pauses when he remembers how she referred to him as "a peasant," as if he hears the note of condescension in her voice. Lopakhin has risen in social status since that encounter, and Ranevsky has fallen. It is important to note that it is Lopakhin the wealthy businessman, who has difficulty remembering the word "peasant." It shows that Lopakhin is conflicted between his status as a businessman and his status as a former peasant—between his present and his past. It also foreshadows Ranevsky's own inner conflict between her present and her own past.
Oh, my childhood, my innocent childhood! This is the nursery where I slept and I used to look out at the orchard from here! Look, Mother's walking in the orchard. In a white dress.
The speaker is Ranevsky, speaking in Act One. She has just returned to her estate after five years in self-imposed exile in France, and she and her family and friends are all congregated together in the "nursery," the room of her house where she and her brother Leonid grew up. She looks out the window at her beloved cherry orchard that is now in bloom, and momentarily thinks she sees her dead mother walking through it. Upon closer examination, she realizes that it is just a branch, whose white blooms looked like a woman's dress.
The passage shows two related things about Ranevsky, the protagonist of the story. First, the fact that she seems to undergo a hallucination shows her to be disconnected from reality. This is a defining character trait of Ranevsky, and much more than Lopakhin or Trofimov, it is her main antagonist in the story, the one thing barring her from achieving happiness. Furthermore, the content and location of the hallucination reveal the nature of Ranevsky's disconnect. She is seeking refuge in the past, her "innocent childhood." For her, the cherry orchard is a symbol of that past, the sight she would see through her bedroom window every morning, and the fact that she fantasizes seeing her dead mother walking through it merely confirms that impression.
Then last year, when the villa had to be sold to pay my debts, I left for Paris where he robbed me, deserted me and took up with another woman. I tried to poison myself. It was also stupid and humiliating. Then I suddenly longed to be back in Russia, back in my own country with my little girl. [Dries her eyes.] Lord, lord, be merciful, forgive me my sins. Don't punish me any more.
The speaker is Ranevsky, and she is speaking to Trofimov, Gayev, and Lopakhin in Act Two. They are in the countryside together, discussing the imminent auction, at which Ranevsky's estate will be sold to pay her debts. She explains to them the entire sordid story of how she left for France after the drowning death of her son Grisha and was followed into exile by her lover, with whom she had been having an affair before the death of her husband. She admits here to being driven to attempt suicide at one point.
Ranevsky's description of her ordeal associates her with various characters in literature who can be labeled as sinful women." Flaubert's Emma Bovary and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina are perhaps the most famous of these. But Bovary and Karenina both die for their sins, whereas Ranevsky, however sad she may be, survives. She is thus a complicated character, and even her own brother at one point calls her a "loose" woman and implies that she has gotten what she deserves for a life of sin. This is a point where differences between Chekhov's time and ours may significantly affect the way we see his characters. A modern response to Ranevsky might be one of unmitigated pity, whereas Chekhov may have expected his audience to feel a mixture of pity and revulsion.
The awfulness of Ranevksy's recent experience also helps to explain her desire to reconnect with her past—according to her, after these events she just felt a desire to return to her "home country" once more—and casts her more irresponsible spending behavior in a more positive light. Ranevsky presents herself in this passage as a naturally loving and generous person, who is often taken advantage of by others.
All Russia is our orchard. The earth is so wide, so beautiful, so full of wonderful places. [Pause]. Just think, Anya. Your grandfather, your great-grandfather and all your ancestors owned serfs, they owned human souls. Don't you see that from every cherry-tree in the orchard, from every leaf and every trunk, men and women are gazing at you? if we're to start living in the present isn't it abundantly clear that we've first got to redeem our past and make a clean break with it? And we can only redeem it by suffering and getting down to real work for a change.
Trofimov speaks these lines, in Act Three, to Anya. This is after Trofimov's speech on the virtues of work and his attack on the Russian intellectual. The purifying quality of suffering is a theme prevalent throughout much of Russian literature, but Trofimov yokes it to a faith in human progress and reason and a Social Darwinist attitude towards society to produce his utopian vision of the future. Trofimov thus reflects Chekhov's interest in Darwin's theory of evolution and Social Darwinist thought.
Trofimov, like Ranevsky, sees the cherry orchard as being a symbol of the past. But for Trofimov, the past was a time full of oppression and injustice, due to the institution of serfdom. In his hands, the images of cherry trees become threatening and ominous. The orchard is haunted by the ghosts of the past, and they are the ghosts of former slaves, not the pleasant ghost of Ranevsky's mother whom Ranevsky sees walking amidst the orchard's white blooms. For Ranevsky, the past is a place of refuge from a bitter and unkind present, whereas for Trofimov, the past is something that must be escaped from and left behind in order for progress to be made toward a better future.
[Stamps his feet.] Don't laugh at me. If my father and grandfather could only rise from their graves and see what happened, see how their Yermolay- Yermolay who was always being beaten, who could hardly write his name and ran round barefoot in the winter-how this same Yermolay bought this estate, the most beautiful estate in the world.
These lines are spoken by Lopakhin, immediately after he buys the orchard. They show Lopakhin as a man who seems to have resolved his internal conflict between his past and his present. Additionally, they show Lopakhin as a man who wishes that his ancestors could see what their descendent has accomplished and a man who gives his acquisition of the orchard, which he calls in hyperbole "the most beautiful place in the world," a mythical and historical importance. It also shows the fundamental contradiction in Lopakhin. He is a man who at once recognizes the beauty of the orchard, and yet has no compunctions about destroying it for profit. He is a man who has professed his affection and care for Ranevsky many times and told her he loved her "like a sister," or even more, yet here he is practically gloating over his acquisition of her orchard over her, driving her to tears. Lopakhin is at once a kind, empathetic, character, and the symbol of a ruthless, money-driven society that will destroy beauty for profit.