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 ta...
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... is a metaphor in many respects. It forces, or in some cases allows, characters to move on in their lives and let go of a past that they had held on to and nurtured for so long. Firs is the last character to speak in the play. He is a character of the past who has remained in the past and it is ironic that in the end he says “life has gone by as if I’d never lived,” because he is always telling stories about the old days. Firs’s assumed death and the cutting of the cherry orchard is clearly the release of the past because they are the major representations of that time. As the characters leave and take their separate paths, the success of their lives is unknown but there is a slight sense of opportunity and freedom for each of them. They can now continue their lives in present day. The Cherry Orchard is ultimately about remembering the past but living in the present.
1. Chekhov, Anton. The Cherry Orchard. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1991.
2. Dickson, Ben. SparkNote on The Cherry Orchard. 5 Dec. 2004. .
3. Kenny, Sarah. Classic Notes on The Cherry Orchard. 29 July 2000.
4. Russell, Yvan. The Anton Chekhov Page. 19 April 1998.
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