The Cherry Orchard: Reality, Illusion, and Foolish Pride
Dr. Clark Lemons
In the plays The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, and Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, the protagonists' mental beliefs combine reality and illusion that both shape the plot of each respective story. The ability of the characters to reject or accept an illusion, along with the foolish pride that motivated their decision, leads to their personal downfall.
In The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, Gayev and Miss Ranevsky, along with the majority of their family, refuse to believe that their estate is close to bankruptcy. Instead of accepting the reality of their problem, they continue to live their lives under the illusion that they are doing well financially. The family continues with its frivolous ways until there is no money left (the final night they have in the house before it is auctioned, they throw an extravagant party, laughing in the face of impending financial ruin) Even when Lopakhin attempts to rescue the family with ideas that could lead to some of the estate being retained, they dismiss his ideas under the illusion that the situation is not so desperate that they need to compromise any of their dignity.
Lopakhin: As you know, your cherry orchard's being sold to pay your debts. The auction is on the twenty second of August. But there's no need to worry, my dear. You can sleep soundly. There's a way out. Here's my plan. Listen carefully, please. Your estate is only about twelve miles from town, and the railway is not very far away. Now all you have to do is break up your cherry orchard and the land along the river into building
plots and lease them out for country cottages. You'll then have an income of at least twenty-five thousand a year. Gayev: I'm sorry, but what utter nonsense!
(Later in the Dialogue)
Mrs. Ranevsky: Cut down? My dear man, I'm very sorry but I don't think you know what you're talking about.... Lopakhin: If we can't think of anything and if we can't come to any decision, it won't only be your cherry orchard, but your whole estate that will be sold at auction on the twenty- second of August. Make up your mind. I tell you there is no other way. (Page 621-622)
This inability on the behalf of the family to realize the seriousness of their situation is due to their refusal to accept reality. If they had recognized the situation they were in, and dealt with it, (they may have been able to save some of their money, or even curbed their spending) they could have saved themselves. Unfortunately, once things got bad for them financially, they refused to accept that fact that circumstances had changed, and instead continued to live as though nothing were wrong.
They adopted this illusion as a savior of their pride, and the illusion eventually became reality for the family. Their pride wouldn't allow for anything else. They were too proud to accept that their social status, and financial status was in jeopardy, so they chose to live a life of illusion. In their imaginary situation, they were going to be fine. It is easier to believe something when you really want it to be true. Unfortunately, outside situations don't change, even if you can fool yourself into thinking they don't exist.
The illusion that they used to run their lives became the source of their downfall. Since they grasped at their illusion so tightly, in vain hopes that it would replace reality, they failed to deal practically with their problem, until it got to the point where they had to. They were kicked out onto the street, and had all of their material things taken from them....
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