When Varya leaves to attend to Simon Yephikodov, who has broken a billiard cue, Ranevsky and Trofimov begin to talk. He declares himself and Anya to be "above love". Ranevsky then wryly observes that she must be "below it." Talk then turns to the matter of the auction and the estate. He implores Ranevsky to "face the truth," about her business dealings and also about her lover in Paris who continues to send telegrams. According to Trofimov, she should ignore him; he did after all, rob her. Ranevsky accuses Trofimov of being ugly and understanding nothing because he has never been in love, because he is too young and inexperienced. She calls him "ugly", and he admits that he is not very attractive. She calls him a "ridiculous freak and monster". Trofimov is outraged and leaves. But as he leaves he falls over himself in the hall. Anya comes in, laughing at Peter. The Stationmaster begins to recite "The Sinful Woman", a poem by Aleksey Tolstoy, a Russian dramatist. A waltz begins playing, and everyone starts to dance. Ranevsky offers to dance with Peter.
Firs enters and talks about how the quality of guests at the parties on the estate has declined. Generals, admirals, and barons used to attend, but now they have difficulty securing the local stationmaster. Yasha rudely tells Firs that it is time for him to die; Firs responds by calling Yasha a nincompoop. Anya comes in, saying that she has talked to someone in the kitchen who says someone bought the orchard at auction today. Ranevsky becomes anxious and demands to know who, but Anya does not know. Pischik enters, and asks for a dance with Ranevsky. While they dance, he asks her for the 180 rubles he needs to make his mortgage payment the next day. Yasha cannot stop laughing at Yephikodov's futility, as Charlotte continues to entertain the guests, now in a checkered coat and top hat.
Dunyasha powders her face and tells Yasha that even though Anya has asked her to dance, she won't because it makes her giddy. When Dunyasha confides in Yasha that the man from the post office told her she looked like a flower, he replies with a yawn and an insult. Dunyasha then reflects on how sensitive she is, and she reveals how much she enjoys it when people say nice things to her. Yephikodov enters. He goes up to Dunyasha and complains to her rather meekly about her lack of attention towards him. He says that he feels like an "insect." She is irritated by him and refuses to treat him seriously, saying that she is "in a dream" at the party. She starts to play with her fan.
The argument between Trofimov and Ranevsky centers around the question in their argument is that of truth: whose perspective, whose memories should be accepted as true? Trofimov proves to be an excellent foil for Ranevsky in this debate. He is ugly and intellectual, the "eternal student," his life revolves around searching for objective truth. Ranevsky, on the other hand, is intuitive and beautiful; for her, the truth is a much more slippery concept than it is to Trofimov. Trofimov begs Ranevsky to "face the truth", namely, that her lover in Paris is unworthy of her affection and a drain on her emotional and financial resources, resources that she should be using to save her estate. Trofimov declares himself to be "above love", implying that he is superior to anyone under the sway of love, such as Ranevksy. Ranevksy's first name, Lyuba, means "love", and she defends her actions using love as her justification. She feels she should go to Paris to be with her lover, and she defends this opinion by saying "I love him," and asking, "what else can I do?" She tells Trofimov that he can only see "what is true and untrue," and that she has "lost her sight" in these matters. Knowledge is here equated with vision. But ironically enough, she also argues that the only reasons Trofimov thinks he can see truth is that he is "too young to see what life is really like," implying that now it is Trofimov who has no vision and is blind.
To Ranevksy, this inability to love is "unnatural," and she accuses Trofimov of being "a ridiculous freak, a type of monster." Ranevsky uses Nature as a weapon to discredit Trofimov. Her cherry orchard, and by extension, her memories are natural. And she identifies herself fully with her memories, by identifying herself with the cherry orchard, saying, "if you sell it you might as well sell me." Trofimov, in contrast, has no past. He is "too young," and he has no memory. Compared to Ranevsky, he is nothing. He is "ugly" and a "seedy- looking gent." What is more important for Ranevsky are that one's memories reflect one's vision of how the world should be, rather than any objective set of facts about how it is.
Interestingly, when Ranevsky wins their argument, she suddenly disclaims her remarks as only being "a joke," and she is not comfortable with a victory that alienates her from Trofimov. Her desire to love others and be loved here makes her admirable and sympathetic to the point that she will lie to herself and Trofimov about what just happened between them. Chekhov reminds us what this willingness to ignore reality and to believe in pleasant illusions has cost her. Firs remarks that the estate used to have generals and barons attend their parties, and now they have difficulty attracting post-office clerks and stationmasters. The stationmaster himself begins reciting a poem called The Sinful Woman. We don't have to believe the stationmaster is intentionally referring to Ranevsky to see the connection between her and the archetypal Sinful Woman of literature; Ranevsky has cheated on her husband, lived an extravagant life, and is now on the brink of disaster. In fact, disaster has already occurred; the orchard has already been sold to Lopakhin while Ranevsky dances. These details all subtly mock Ranevsky's idealism, making it look instead more like idiocy.
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