The Cherry Orchard: the Past in the Present

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The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov is very much a play about the past. However, it is more specifically about breaking free from the past through change and acceptance. The consistent theme of memory in terms of both forgetting and remembering are evident throughout the play. The quote at the end of the play where Firs is forgotten and the cherry orchard is cut down is an important symbol of the past dying away and the characters moving on. Firs ends the play and he represents the past in both historical and personal terms in relation to Madame Ranevsky. The great cherry orchard is a symbol of the past, a past that carries different emotions for the various characters. However, each character is tied to the cherry orchard, and its representation of the past, either directly or indirectly and this is the string that they must cut and break free from. Firs Nikolayevitch is Madame Ranevsky's servant who is eighty-seven years old. He might be a little bit senile but he is still the only link to the estate's happier past. Firs is always commenting on how life on the estate used to be much more pleasant. He explains how his master once went to Paris on a "post-chaise," which is a horse, instead of traveling on a train as they do presently. He also talks about how life was before the serfs were freed and even though he was born a slave on Madame Ranevsky's property and was freed, he stayed on the estate because he had no where else to go like many others. They had been given the freedom but they lacked the tools to be successful on their own. Firs questions the effectiveness of the Liberation: "And when the Liberation came I was already chief valet. But I wouldn't have any Liberation then; I stayed with the master. I remember how happy everyone else was, but why they were happy they didn't know themselves." He is living proof of this because society has changed and he is still locked in the past. Lopakhin, who comes from a background similar to Firs, has been able to adapt to the modern society and become a success. Firs represents the old classic system and the times that have past. At the end of the play Firs is ill and needs to be taken to the hospital. There is an error and Anya incorrectly informs anyone that asks that Firs has been taken to the hospital. Barbara even wonders why the note for the doctor has been left behind if Firs has already been taken to the hospital but she does not question it further. Firs ends up being forgotten at the estate where he lies still, maybe even dead. This symbolizes the passing of the old order in Russia. The Liberation had no meaning to him because he did not have the resources and the education to make a life on his own but he remained loyal to the family his whole life. The family was not only disloyal to him but also disrespectful and unappreciative of his work and care for the family. He is told to "shut up" on various occasions and insulted for his efforts. When Firs says to Gayef "Put this on, please, master; it's getting damp," Gayef's reply is "What a plague you are, Firs!" when Firs has completely selfless intentions. However, the ultimate act if disloyalty and disrespect towards Firs is the end where the family is so caught up in their own lives that they cannot even be bothered to check if the ill old man is cared for and taken to the hospital. Firs' death represents the final phase in a long process of change from the old to the new. Firs' perspective on memories of the past will be "forgotten" and die with him.

Everything in the play revolves around the cherry orchard. The estate is about 2,500 acres and that the cherry orchard covers most of it. The orchard is an artifact of the past and has no use in the present day. Firs explains that it was once used to make cherry jam in the past but the recipe was lost. It represents the past of the different characters in the play and the memories that have held them in that time. The sound of the...
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