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Firs enters and talks about how good things were back in the old days, before the serfs were freed. Lopakhin, as the son of serfs, sarcastically agrees, "At least there were plenty of floggings." Firs does not hear him and remarks that he can't understand life anymore.
Trofimov enters. He and Lopakhin exchange some barbed words. Lopakhin calls Trofimov an "eternal student" and wonders if he has reached his fiftieth birthday yet. Trofimov calls this an old joke. Lopakhin then asks Trofimov, "What do you think of me?" Trofimov replies that Lopakhin, a soon-to-be- millionaire, is a beast of prey as necessitated by the role he fulfills in nature. Everyone laughs, then Gayev asks him to resume a discussion about pride that the two were having earlier.
Trofimov asserts the folly of pride. His reasoning: man is a "pretty poor physiological specimen", and most of the human race is in misery, "the only thing to do" he says, "is work". Despite his pessimism about man's current state, he expresses optimism for the future. He abuses Russian intellectuals for having no idea what work means. Lopakhin agrees with him, to a certain extent. According to Lopakhin, he gets up at five o'clock every morning and does nothing but work for the rest of the day. He then proclaims that given the natural splendor of Russia, he is disappointed with its people. Its people should be "giants", he says. Ranevsky warns them to be careful for what they ask for, because "giants" could end up causing more trouble than they are worth.
Gayev begins giving what seems to be almost a recitation of a poem about nature and how it unites the past with the present, before he is silenced by Anya. In the ensuing deep silence, the sound of a cable or string breaking can be heard; no one is quite sure what it is, but Firs maintains he last heard similar sounds before the freeing of the serfs.
Suddenly a drunken man comes by, asking for directions, and being a nuisance. Ranevsky makes him leave by giving him several gold pieces. Varya is frightened by the encounter, so the entire party, with the exception of Trofimov and Anya, decide to leave. Trofimov and Anya then discuss their increasingly close relationship, which Trofimov describes as being "above love", though Varya is suspicious of it developing into a romance. Trofimov gives another speech about the debt all Russia is under from the legacy of serfdom, but how he has tremendous hopes for the future. The two go down by the river, leaving Varya alone in the woods, calling out for Anya in the dark.
In this section of the play, Chekhov makes explicit the social allegory that has, until now, been only implicit in the characters of Lopakhin and Ranevsky. The agent of this change in the text is Trofimov. Trofimov serves as a foil for Lopakhin. His idealism contrasts with Lopakhin's materialism, his high-flown rhetoric underscores Lopakhin's lack of sophistication. Yet they share a similar disdain for the past, which is symbolized by the cherry orchard. With Trofimov, however, this disdain has an intellectual foundation, whereas Lopakhin's is rooted in personal memories.
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