The Cherry Orchard

Summary

Act Three [After Varya's second entrance, just before Lopakhin returns]

Summary Act Three [After Varya's second entrance, just before Lopakhin returns]

And Lopakhin contemplates one final act of revenge against the past. "[Y]ou just watch Yermolay Lopakhin get his axe into that cherry orchard, watch the trees come crashing down. We'll fill the place with cottages." The image is one replete with violence; Lopakhin will be personally destroying the trees, destroying what he himself has called "the most beautiful place in the world." His appreciation of this beauty, yet his willingness to destroy it, creates an uneasy tension, leaving us wondering why he not only accepts, but also delights in the thought of destroying the orchard. This tension must exist firmly within Lopakhin himself, since the orchard represents the best that the Russia of Lopakhin's grandparents had to offer. It is "the most beautiful place in the world," and, moreover, so large that it probably could only have been supported by the oppressive economic system then in place. In obliterating it, Lopakhin obliterates the attractive beauty from the memory of that social world, leaving only its repulsive oppression, but he also attempts to obliterate his own oppressive memories of a brutal peasant childhood. So Lopakhin's destruction of the cherry orchard symbolizes his desire to forget his peasant past, as well as the desire that Russia should forget its own peasant past; in other words, its history of serfdom.

But while he exults, Ranevsky weeps. And it is typical that of the dramatic structure of The Cherry Orchard that right after his moment of triumph, Lopakhin acts out his ugliest moment in the play. We see the insensitivity of the celebrating Lopakhin when faced with Ranevsky's sadness, especially when he sees that she is weeping. Instead of consoling her, he goes up to her in a reproachful tone. In effect, he gloats, evoking an I-told-you-so type of response. In previous scenes, we were liable to feel sorry for Lopakhin when he described his thick-headedness and his lack of refinement. But here he proves himself to be deserving of this image—he is "a bull in a china shop," both emotionally (in that he is insensitive) and physically (in that he is clumsy). When juxtaposed with his recent triumph, this behavior is definitely ironic. The irony arises from the fact that while Lopakhin exults about his freedom from his peasant origins, his clumsiness, his insensitivity, and his emotional brutality towards Ranevsky, are all the character traits of a peasant. They thus prove that the brutality of Lopakhin's peasant past is still very much a part of him even if he does forget it. He is infected by it, much as Trofimov thinks all of Russian society is infected by the legacy of serfdom.