The Cherry Orchard
Act Two [from Ranevsky's entrance, up until Firs's entrance]
Ranevsky, Gayev, and Lopakhin appear, and Lopakhin is once again trying to convince Ranevsky to convert her estate to cottages. He demands a simple yes or no answer to his original idea. Ranevsky asks who has been smoking such "disgusting cigars", possible attempting to ignore him. She then drops her change purse. Yasha picks it up, and then leaves, but not before a tense moment with Gayev. Gayev asks why he always sees Yasha "hanging around everywhere". Yasha laughs as soon as Gayev starts to speak, and apologizes, saying that he can't help laughing at the sound of Gayev's voice. Gayev demands that either Yasha leaves or he does. Ranevsky tells Yasha to leave, and he does, still laughing at Gayev.
Lopakhin informs the pair that a rich man, Deriganov, intends to buy the property. Gayev talks about a rich aunt in the town of Yaroslavl who may send money. Lopakhin asks whether it will be in the range of one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand roubles; Gayev answers that it will be more like fifteen thousand. Ranevsky says that the idea of cottages and summer visitors is "frightfully vulgar." Lopakhin begins to lose patience with the pair; he insults their lack of business sense, calls them "scatter-brained", and expresses frustration with the fact that they "can't understand" that they are about to lose their property. He even calls Gayev "an old woman", after which Lopakhin turns around and begins to leave. But Ranevsky begs him to stay, because it's more "amusing" when he is around.
Ranevsky seems to express regret at the "sins" she and her brother have committed. Lopakhin wants to know what sins she refers to; Gayev says that he has wasted his substance on sweets, while popping one into his mouth. But Ranevksy has something more serious in mind; she recounts the story of how when she left for France five years earlier, for her villa in Menton, she was followed by a lover with whom she had been having an affair with since before her husband's death. In other words, a man with whom she had committed adultery. She also tells how last year, when she was forced to sell her villa in Menton, he robbed her, deserted her, and took up with another woman. The telegrams that have been arriving from Paris are from him, she says. He has been writing asking her forgiveness and for her to go back to France.
Lopakhin makes a wry comment he heard in a play about Russians being "frenchified." Ranevsky then insists that the comment is not funny, and Lopakhin is "drab"; he should watch his own dull performance, says Ranevsky, instead of going out to plays. Lopakhin agrees, going further, saying that his life is "preposterous", that he was beat as a child, is unintelligent and unrefined, and that his handwriting is "awful". Ranevsky asks him why he doesn't marry Varya. He says he has nothing against it but then says nothing more, simply pausing. Gayev informs everyone that he has been offered a job at a bank. Ranevsky insists that he refuse the offer, saying, "What, you in a bank!"
This section of the play emphasizes the complexity of the conflict between Lopakhin and Ranevsky and, by extension, the complexity of the different stances towards memory and forgetting that they represent. Lopakhin, as always, is the man of facts and figures: the orchard will be sold, it is just a matter to whom. In this situation, he comes across as demanding, pompous, and arrogant; he wants a simply "yes or no" and is insensitive to Ranevsky's obvious emotional attachment to the cherry orchard.
But we can feel his frustration when he calls Gayev an "old woman." Gayev behaves, in fact, like an infant, refusing to even consider Lopakhin's proposal, making random remarks about billiards when they are discussing a serious matter. And when Ranevsky insults Lopakhin, telling him his life is "drab," we feel sympathetic for him in this situation, especially because of his peasant childhood, his abusive father, and his lack of refinement. When he castigates himself for his poor handwriting, we feel his insecurity. And this undercuts the impression we have formed of him as pompous and arrogant from the way he attempts to dictate to Ranevsky and Gayev.
Ranevsky herself seems unable to comprehend her present situation. This reinforces our impression of her as being childish, as does her dismissal of Lopakhin's scheme as "vulgar", when it may be the only way out of her financial mess. A mess for which, by her own admission, she is mostly to blame. But she also attracts the reader's sympathy. She has suffered tragedy in her life, and the fact that she was unable to bear it and was driven to a suicide attempt is a cause for pity.
Furthermore, she acknowledges her problems with money, the foolishness of her extravagant spending habits. There is the feeling that she is trying to be more reasonable, more practical, but is having great difficulty. We are tempted to feel for both characters. The tone of the play, then, switches between comic and tragic; we see the "scatter-brained" Gayev through Lopakhin's eyes as being ridiculous, as we laugh sympathetically at Lopakhin's insecurities and feel compassion for Ranevksy and her struggles.
An important part of Gayev's characterization is brought out by Yasha's laughter in this section: Gayev appears utterly ridiculous to the younger generation. Anya, too, is always interrupting his "foolish" speeches, out of concern that he doesn't embarrass himself. For Gayev is a perpetual infant; he makes strange remarks, deals with Lopakhin's arguments by name-calling, and is continually popping sweets into his mouth. Firs mothers him, reminding Gayev in Act One to wear his overcoat and again in Act Two. Ranevsky's apparent yearning to be a child again is taken to a logical extreme in Gayev, who is virtually a child, stuck emotionally and intellectually in his youth. In his youth, his family members were still wealthy landowners, and they probably still owned serfs. He is thus tied to the old feudal order in a way that makes him anachronistic in present-day society, and his inability to grow as a human being ensures that he will stay that way.
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