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The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov

Act Two [ Until Ranevsky's entrance]

Act One [after Anya's exit]

Act Two [from Ranevsky's entrance, up until Firs's entrance]

Summary

Sitting near an abandoned chapel, in view of the cherry orchard, are Charlotte, Yasha and Dunyasha, and Yephikodov. They are sitting on a bench, talking, while Yepikhodov plays a guitar and sings. Nearby is a well and what look like old tombstones. Telegraph poles run off into the distance, and dark poplars can be seen along with the cherry trees. Charlotte has a shotgun and is wearing a man's peaked cap. Yasha is smoking a cigar. Dunyasha sits and powders her face.

Charlotte tells everyone her life history: how she was taken from town to town by her mother and father, performing circus tricks at local fairs. After they died she was taken by a "German lady", who educated her. She admits that her mother and father were probably never married. Yepikhodov plays a sad and mournful song on his "mandolin", which according to him is what his guitar is to "a man crazed with love". Yepikhodov, Yasha, and Dunyasha talk about how lucky Yasha is to have traveled outside of Russia and of how fun life is in other countries. Yephikodov professes that despite the number of books he's read, he still can't decided anything about his life, most importantly whether or not to shoot himself. He then displays his revolver that he continually carries about in case he makes up his mind.

Charlotte leaves in semi-disgust at Yepikhodov, both his erratic behavior and his singing, and complaining that "all these clever men are stupid," referring, it seems, to both Yasha and Yephikodov. Yepikhodov asks to speak to Dunyasha. She reluctantly concedes but only after she demands that he go back to the house and get her cape. He complies but only after implying that he might shoot himself in the meantime. When they are alone, Dunyasha begins to worry, apparently for the first time, that Yephikodov might actually be contemplating suicide. Yasha responds by kissing her and calling her a "tasty little morsel," just as he did when they first met. Dunyasha confesses her love to Yasha. She says that he is "so educated, and can talk about anything". Yasha reacts disinterestedly. He admits that what she says about his education is true. He also says that, according to him, it is sinful for a woman to be in love with a man. When he hears Ranevsky and the others approaching, he tells her to leave and pretend that she has been bathing down by the river, so that they won't be seen together. He says that he couldn't bear people thinking that they were. She complies, choking on his cigar smoke as she leaves.

Analysis

Initially, we might wish to dismiss the scene with the four young servants as simple comic relief. Chekhov definitely changes the tone of the play somewhat from the more serious discussion that ended the last act toward a more comedic voice. But he is also commenting on memory, about nature, and about drama itself in this presentation of a pastoral idyll, full of poplar and cherry trees. But the idyll is not wholly interrupted: the telegraph poles challenge and disrupt this picture of things, and Charlotte, as a young woman, wears a man's hat and carries a man's weapon. She is a woman who cannot remember whether her mother and father were married, where she came from or who she is. Charlotte's lack of memory constitutes a lack of identity, and this linkage of memory and identity will prove important later on.

Yephikodov also has something of an identity crisis; he self-consciously he wishes to be considered a Romantic, yet is extremely unconvincing in the role, to such an extent that it is funny. His songs are mournful, yet to Charlotte they sound like "hyenas"; he claims to contemplate suicide, even bringing out his revolver, but in his hands the weapon is totally unconvincing and generates no concern amongst the others. With Yephikodov, Chekhov does several things. First, he satirizes the romantic, idealistic hero, common in Russian literature amongst authors like Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky—characters such as Eugene Onegin and Prince Myshkin from The Idiot. Yephikodov's talk of suicide might even be seen as a gross parody of Hamlet's contemplation of suicide in his famous soliloquoy; Shakespeare was widely read among Russian writers. More specifically, however, Yephikodov's revolver, as well as Charlotte's shotgun, mock nineteenth-century theatre's traditional reliance on "the gun"; many nineteenth-century plays were intensely melodramatic stories revolving around a duel or some other act of violence. With this act of mockery, Chekhov at once declares his independence from nineteenth-century theater and also seems to warn against interpreting the current play in a tragic light; tragedy is much too funny, it seems, to be really tragic.

Charlotte is a more complex character than Yephikodov; she stands apart from the lovers, declaring herself "alone". As she leaves, she spouts a paradox in saying that "these clever men are all so stupid." Again, Chekhov is making an allusion here to Shakespeare, to a type of character that Shakespeare often employed, which is that of the Fool. As a carnival trickster, she is adept at manipulating illusions; the implication is that she can recognize the illusions others create and by which are fooled. For example, the illusion Yephikodov creates that he is a Romantic hero, which convinces no one. Or Dunyasha's illusion that Yasha is in love with her, which convinces only herself; it is clear that Yasha considers Dunyasha to be nothing more than "a tasty little morsel". And there is Yasha's illusion of culture and sophistications, to which both Yasha and Dunyasha succumb, but which is belied intellectually by his boorish treatment of Dunyasha and physically by the acrid smoke of his cigar.

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