It is now October, and all the occupants of the estate are preparing to leave. We are in the nursery again, but now it looks very different than it did in May; there are no window curtains, pictures, and little furniture, all of which is stacked in one corner. The sound of axes chopping down the orchard can already be heard. Lopakhin himself will accompany the clan as far as the station, and then carry on to Kharkov, where he plans to spend the winter. He buys champagne at eight rubles a bottle for everyone
Gayev and Ranevsky say goodbye to some peasants out in the back, as Yasha mutters that the lower classes "haven't got much sense." Afterwards, Gayev and Ranevksy come into the nursery. Ranevsky has given the peasants her entire purse of money. Gayev tells her she "shouldn't do such things," but she protests that she couldn't help it.
Lopakhin and Trofimov give each other a long and complicated goodbye. They both admit their affection for each other, while admitting they will always have a very different outlook on life. Trofimov tells Lopakhin he thinks he is a good person at heart. Lopakhin offers Trofimov a loan of forty thousand roubles, money he made in the spring by planting poppies over three thousand acres of land. Trofimov refuses Lopakhin's offer, however. He claims that he is a "free man", and gives an idealistic speech in which he asserts his belief that mankind is marching towards a "higher truth". Anya comes in and asks Lopakhin, on behalf of Ranevsky to hold off cutting down the orchard until the family has left. Lopakhin agrees immediately, and Trofimov criticizes him for his lack of tact. Anya then wonders whether Firs has been taken to the hospital yet, since he became really ill that morning. Yasha says, with great offense, that he told Yegor to do it that morning. Yephikodov expresses the opinion that Firs is old enough that it is time for him to die; Yephikodov says that he envies Firs. Just before Yephikodov leaves, he squashes a hatbox with his suitcase.
Soon Ranevsky, Yasha, Anya, Charlotte, and Gayev all congregate; all of them are leaving, as well as Varya. Ranevsky is going to Paris, with Yasha accompanying her; Gayev has a job working at the bank in the local town; Anya is going to school, and Charlotte is simply leaving, for where even she does not know. Varya, we later learn, is going to the Ragulins', to take on a housekeeper's job. They are all greeted unexpectedly by Pischik, who even more unexpectedly pays back 400 rubles of the 1,240 he owes Ranevsky. Pischik explains that the money comes from two Englishmen, to whom he has just leased a part of his property on which the Englishmen discovered some white clay, for twenty-four years.
In a play thematically centered around the act of forgetting, it seems appropriate that the final act seems to forget the development of the three acts that preceded it. Lopakhin is still energetic, outgoing, and concerned with money—we learn from him that the champagne cost eight rubles a bottle—and insensitive to the feelings of Ranevsky. Ranevsky is still unable to control her generosity, giving a whole purse away. Gayev is still concerned about his sister, Yasha still wants to leave and Trofimov is still idealistic and naïve. The mood is initially upbeat. This sameness, this lack of change, should run against our expectations. In the previous scene, we were presented with the loss of the cherry orchard, a seemingly catastrophic event. In this, the falling action of the play, we expect to see the consequences of this climax. But there don't seem to be any consequences, except for the simple fact that Lopakhin owns the orchard and is now cutting it down.
Chekhov holds off on the consequences because it fits in with the naturalistic, balanced way he has developed the play up to this point. Ranevsky will not become a completely different person after the loss of her orchard. She will, for the most part, be the same person, and if she is going to change the change will have to be long and gradual. The effects of a momentous event, Chekhov seems to be telling us, and the changes in identity that it brings, are often not felt until long after it occurs, be it the emancipation of the serfs or the loss of the cherry orchard.
In case we were going to draw the conclusion that the loss of the cherry orchard was somehow predestined, Pischik comes along to spoil that illusion. This is a perfect example of what Donald Styan calls Chekhov's "dialectic" method of presenting a drama, taking us in and out of the play all the time with new details. Pischik is, if anything, more irresponsible and foolhardy than Ranevsky, more liable to talk endlessly in the face of impending financial disaster; in the previous Act, he enjoyed himself at the party, even though the next day a mortgage of 310 roubles was due. If Ranevsky is paralyzed by an inability to face reality, then Pischik is her "scatter-brained" nature taken to a comical extreme. Indeed, his last name, which means "squeaker" in Russian, indicates that he is a comic caricature.
But Pischik is also lucky. First of all, he is lucky to have a friend like Ranevksy who will loan him money even though she has none herself. And secondly, he is lucky to possess some white china clay on his property that Englishmen are willing to pay 400 rubles in order to lease for twenty-four years. It is of course possible, in fact, probably likely, that Pischik was just taken advantage of, but this does not change the fact that Pischik still has his property and is now in slightly less debt than Ranevsky. Pischik challenges the air of inevitability. His story, so far, has a happy ending. And this seems to be purely a matter of chance.
There is one key difference between Pischik and Ranevksy, however. Pischik possesses neither Ranevsky's idealism nor her desire to escape the present, to construct an illusion of security for herself in the world of her childhood. In Act Three, he admits he can't think of anything but money, which is natural for a man deeply in debt. Ranevsky, however, can only think of her orchard, her family, her brother, and love, and doesn't think about money at all. So even though Pischik's optimism seems much more unjustified than Ranevsky's gloom, he is tuned in to reality in a way that she isn't. He remembers the importance of money, whereas Ranevsky forgets.
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