Analysis of Disconnect in Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"
In Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, many of the characters seem disconnected from each other and from the world around them. The characters also appear on the surface to be disconnected from their own destinies as well, while all the while following a path that they know is meant for them; rejecting this path the whole way while all the while deep down knowing their inevitable ending is each character’s own disconnect from reality. All of these feeling of disconnectedness in the characters are purposefully written in by Chekhov because this is seemingly how he perceives people and the miscommunications and follies that actually occur in real life interactions and exchanges.
The characters in this play are far from perfect and they show this off in a number of different ways throughout the script. In a sense, they are disconnected from their own actions and the objects laid out in front of them. The first instance of this occurs in the very beginning of the play with Yepikhodov’s entrance. The first thing we hear out of Yepikhodov is his shoes, which are squeaking. The first thing we see Yepikhodov do is he immediately drops the bunch of flowers he was carrying inside. Thirteen lines away from this action, Yepikhodov bumps into a chair and knocks it over and is proud of this action. It proved the point he made previously that, “Every day something awful happens to me”. The actions shown here are certainly plausible and the fact that they are only done by one character so far (who admits that things in fact do happen to him) seem like just a character flaw.
As the script continues though, these random mishaps are commonplace amongst everyone. A few pages later, in a scene where Yasha and Dunyasha are reacquainted with each other after they haven’t seen each other for an extended period of time, Yasha sporadically grabs Dunyasha and kisses her. This prompts Dunyasha to drop and subsequently break a saucer that she was carrying. Yasha then leaves the room immediately, leaving the blame of the broken saucer on Dunyasha. The characters seem to have no idea or conception of the items in the world around them.
Later in Act 1 on lines 220-223 and lines 289-301, we have two characters, Liubov Andreyevna and Gayev, who both sporadically begin talking to a bookcase as though it is a person. Liubov professes her love for the bookcase and kisses it while Gayev has the idea to give the bookcase a birthday party and expresses his firm admiration of the bookcase’s existence. These two characters in these speeches come off as completely insane in the real world, but since both speeches are completely written off by the other character, it comes across as a perfectly normal act. Lopakhin is the only one in this instance who seems to have both feet on the ground with his awkward line, “Right. Well…”, which is just a segue to get away from the weird moment of Gayev’s bookcase monologue. The props and set pieces in this show are all made into a supporting cast for these characters by the way the characters interact with them. The characters seem to have a hard time connecting with each other, so when something odd happens, like a random kiss or a stale conversation; the characters create some sort of distraction with the items to disconnect themselves from the reality of the situation.
One of the more irksome instances of characters seeming to be disconnected from each other is shown in the relationship between Varya and Lopakhin. Throughout the entire play, there is a mention that these two are meant to become married. They are both in love with each other and there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping them. Other characters in the play talk about it all the time and mention how much they want for Lopakhin to propose to her. We then finally come to nearly the end of the play when Lopakhin is supposed to propose to Varya. He says he’s going to propose to her. On the subject, he says, “If there’s time, I’ll do it…. All right, basta (enough), let’s just get it over with”. Varya is sent in for the purpose of being proposed to by Lopakhin. She then enters the room, and they disconnect from the entire intent of the conversation. Lopakhin then leaves, without fulfilling his destiny of proposing to Varya. Varya then simply cries on the floor and leaves with her mother. The disconnection in what is meant to be for these two characters is a trend shown in Chekhov’s writings. He tends to leave characters falling short of their intended destinies, disconnecting from what it is they actually want and always falling short; supposedly what happens in real life.
In Act 2, the world begins its disconnect from the characters and the
characters exhibit their most important disconnect from each other. In
one of Chekhov’s more talked about and speculated on acts, he randomly
inserts a sound effect into the play. The sound “seems to fall from the
sky”. It’s “a sad sound, like a harp string breaking”. The string
breaking itself symbolizes the beginning of disconnect of the entire
family from the way they have been accustomed to living and their fall
from the status they have lived as all their life, but what’s even more
important is the character’s reactions to the sound. Each character has
their own interpretation that means something to themselves.
Lopakhin, who is the son of slaves, but lifted himself up to now be a businessman interested in turning the orchard into a subdivision and leasing plots out to vacationers, hears “an echo from a mine shaft. But it must be far away”. This idea is his vision of what he wants the land to become and a foreshadowing of what the land in fact will become. The mine shaft is in essence a gold mine for him in the future. It’s a metaphor for the money he will make off of the orchard once he buys the place, destroys it, and converts it into a business. Gayev, the character who is obsessed with nature and anything he can lavishly describe hears, “some kind of bird… like a heron”. Next, Trofimov, a student who has been in school for as long as anyone can remember, hears “an owl”. The owl, of course, is a bird which is commonly associated with wisdom. Liubov’s response is a direct correlation to the scene that happens right after the responses to the sound. Liubov, being the mother in the family, shivers and says that the sound makes her nervous. In the next scene, Liubov is confronted with a homeless man and although quite shaken, she gives him a gold piece. Liubov subconsciously recognizes the sound as the significant breaking of her way of life into a less than rich situation. The interaction with the homeless man puts that perspective closer when the homeless man becomes one gold piece richer, while Liubov continues to become poorer. She then admits that she is terrible with money and offers to give the money she has left to Varya, while asking for a loan from Lopakhin (to which he obliges). The most interesting reaction to the sound is in Firs, who has been the butler to this family for as long as he can remember and has become extremely old and nearly senile. Firs says that it reminds him of “the day we got our freedom back”. At the very end of the play, we hear the sound again. The only person left on the stage is Firs and one of his last lines is, “Well, it’s all over now, and I never even had a life to live…” Afterwards, he presumably dies on stage. Then the sound rings again, signifying Firs freedom from the constraints of the family’s status and the hold that they had over him directly because of their money and status. The sound actually is a return to his freedom just as he predicted the first time the sound rang out.
Coincidentally, it’s also a return to the family’s freedom as well. The massive burden of the cherry orchard has disappeared. All of the characters in the end are actually even relieved that they are finally able to move on with their lives. The loss of the cherry orchard to Lopakhin, and the string that was holding them into the social status that the orchard brought upon them had finally broken. They were finally disconnected from the life they believed they loved, when it in fact made them miserable. The fact that every individual character had their own individual interpretations of the sound, while virtually ignoring everyone else’s interpretation shows the disconnect that allows each character to live in their own world, free from the cares or constraints of having to deal with anyone else’s thoughts or opinions on an event that seemingly has no meaning, but elicits profound introspective responses.
The Cherry Orchard is a play that describes many levels of the human interaction as seen through the eyes of Anton Chekhov. It contains characters who for the most part only seem interested in their own interests, without regard to the thoughts or feelings of those around them. They seem to try to fulfill their destinies, while still falling short in certain areas. The items around them feed their ease to disconnect from the people around them, while the world itself seems to try to disconnect from the characters through the use of some divine noise. The style and technique of Chekhov to weave all of these intricate principles and purposes into a planned, well thought out, coherent play is nothing short of genius, and it will continue to be studied, read, performed, and admired as long as time permits.
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Chekhov, Anton. The Cherry Orchard: A Comedy in Four Acts. 1904.