Anton Chekhov uses The Cherry Orchard, to openly present the decline of an aristocratic Russian family as a microcosm of the rapid decline of the old Russia at the end of the nineteenth century--but also provides an ominous foreshadowing of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in the disparate ideals of his characters, Trofimov and Lopakhin, however unintentionally. The Gayev family and their plight is intended as a symbolic microcosm of the fall of the aristocracy in society at large. Though the merchant Lopakhin is presented as the character who holds values of the new, post-aristocratic age, the student Trofimov espouses the political sentiments that will ultimately replace both the aristocratic class and the new commercial class. Chekhov's presenting Lopakhin as a pioneer of the new social order is undermined by the lines and role he gives to Trofimov, and the author discounts the importance of the then-emerging revolutionaries. Yet the play reveals a major reason why Communism ultimately received very little support from the gradual-minded middle class, which lead to a bloody revolution and totalitarian regimes for a good part of a century. It is this insight which provides contemporary critiques of socialist movements with a lesson about human nature -- a lesson that serves to show that Communism and other forms of ideological socialism have never been workers' movements, even if the movements temporally address workers' political demands.
Chekhov relies on several devices to proclaim to his audience that the changes taking place are not merely personal for the profligate Gayev family, but are part of an inevitable social evolution. Through these devices, Chekh...
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... young revolutionaries who eventually seized Russia. Though the playwright dismisses the importance of these ideas, he offers a contrast of them with those of the bourgeoisie that explains why Russian Communism arrived through a bloody revolution and without middle-class support, and why for over seventy years of this century the world had to live with the results of the revolution.
Chekhov, Anton. The Cherry Orchard. 1903. Jacobus 792-815.
----. Letter to K.S. Stanislavsky. Jacobus 816.
Jacobus, Lee, ed. The Bedford Introduction To Drama. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.
Levite, Allan. Guilt, Blame, and Politics. San Francisco: Stanyan Press, 1998.
Pritchett, V.S. Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free. New York: Random House, 1988.
Simmons, Ernest J. Chekhov: A Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
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