Summary: Act Four [beginning to end of Act]

Ranevsky worries out loud about two people: Firs and Varya. She worries about Firs because he is ill, but Anya assures her that Yasha sent him to the hospital. Her answer is enough to satisfy Ranevsky. Ranevsky worries about Varya because, since the estate has been sold, she feels no compunction to work and is depressed and listless. She then talks to Lopakhin about when he will propose to Varya. Lopakhin says it is unlikely he will ever do so. She encourages him to do so at that very moment; he agrees.

But in the ensuing conversation all Lopakhin manages is small talk, about the weather, the fact that he is staying in Kharkov for the summer, and about what Varya's plans are. She has taken a housekeeping job at the Ragulins', in Yashevno, fifty miles away. Varya pretends to be distracted during the entire conversation, looking for something unspecific that she has lost. Ranevsky has obviously told her adopted daughter about Lopakhin's potential proposal. Varya does manage to agree when Lopakhin observes that all life has gone out of the house. Soon they are interrupted, as a voice—presumably from one of the tree cutters—cries out, "Mr. Lopakhin!" Lopakhin happily leaves the conversation, still unengaged. Varya sits down to sob. Ranevsky comes in to check on her daughter. She can see by Varya's tears that the proposal did not occur.

Soon, it is time for everyone to leave. Gayev nearly bursts into an emotional speech, but both Varya and Anya stop him. Lopakhin pretends to be frightened when Varya takes out her umbrella in a way that suggests she might want to hit someone with it; she tells him not to be silly. There is much sobbing and emotion; even Yephikodov's voice is hoarse. Ranevsky tells everyone that she just wants to look at the walls of her house a little longer; she feels as if she's "never looked at them before". Gayev says something about the train and then again makes a completely unmotivated reference to billiards; for once, he is unable to speak. Trofimov and Anya leave first, together; Anya says, "Good-bye, old life," and Trofimov answers by saying, "And welcome, new life." Varya, Yasha, and Yephikodov follow. Soon everyone has left except for Ranevksy and Gayev. They embrace, cry, and take one last look around their childhood home and then also depart. The play would end here, except that everyone has indeed forgotten to send Firs to the hospital. Firs wanders on stage, muttering to himself about how his life has slipped by as if he "never lived it at all." He sits down on the couch, calling himself a nincompoop and then lies motionless, presumably dead. The disconcerting sound of a string breaking is again heard. The play ends with another sound: that of an axe striking a tree in the orchard.

Analysis: Act Four [beginning to end of Act]

Many of the most important moments in The Cherry Orchard take place when no one is speaking. In this last scene, we have two such moments: Ranevsky and Gayev sobbing in each other's arms and Firs's lying motionless on the couch. Ranevsky reminds Gayev that their mother used to walk around the very room in which they now stand. At the very end, in her last moments in her house, she affirms the house's connection with the past; it seems that this is ultimately what the house means to her. When she and Gayev cry in each other's arms, they cry for the past they are about to lose.

Read more about Chekhov’s use of pauses.

The Cherry Orchard poses the question of whether the characters are better off moving on or if this is truly their tragic end. It is a play about what happens when the present becomes unmoored from the past. This can be either a release, or a tragedy, or both (as for Ranevsky). It can also be the start of a new and better age, as it is for Lopakhin and Trofimov. It can simply be the start of great uncertainty. But for the memories that are forgotten, it means nothing but annihilation. Thus, Firs is forgotten in both a literal sense and a metaphorical sense at the end of the play. Firs is literally left behind and forgotten by the rest of the family. But Firs's perspective on and memories of the past will be "forgotten" too. They will die with him, as will the beauty of the cherry orchard, because the next generation of Russians in the play- Trofimov, Anya, Yasha, Varya-will not remember them. This destruction, this severing of the future from the past, is underlined and emphasized by the sound of the breaking cable.

Read more about the symbolism behind the breaking string.

As Firs dies, he mumbles something about how "life has passed him by." This is an odd thing for Firs to say, considering how he is always telling stories about the old days. But it is consistent with the idea of him being forgotten. When a society is severed from its past, its memories and values are lost. The dead are not only then dead, they are forgotten, as if they never existed.