The play’s central symbol is the titular cherry orchard, which stretches across the expansive country estate that belongs to Madame Ranevsky and her family. At the start of the play, Ranevsky has just returned to Russia from a five-year stint in Paris; low on funds and in danger of losing the estate, her wealthy middle-class neighbor Lopakhin informs her that in order to pay off her interest and save her home she must cut down the cherry orchard, parcel the land up into one-acre plots, and rent it out to other members of the emergent middle-class (so-called “villa residents”). Ranevsky is appalled by the idea—she refuses to part with her beloved cherry orchard, and so, in the end, loses the property at auction to none other than Lopakhin himself, who gleefully plans to immediately employ his own plan to carve up the orchard for profit.
The cherry orchard, then, is a symbol of the aristocracy’s desire to maintain a chokehold on their properties and possessions despite the rapid social, economic, and political change unfolding all around them. As the middle class begins to emerge in Russia, old ways of life become unsustainable, and even the privileged landed gentry must make sacrifices to stay afloat. Ranevksy’s inability to adapt is symbolic of the aristocracy’s paralyzing shock in the face of social change, and the cherry orchard—which, in the play’s final act, is already being chopped down by Lopakhin’s workers even before Ranevsky and her children are fully moved out of the house—represents the violent dismantling of the upper class.
The Cherry Orchard Quotes in The Cherry Orchard
MADAME RANEVSKY: Cut down the cherry orchard! Excuse me, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. If there is one thing that’s interesting, remarkable in fact, in the whole province, it’s our cherry orchard.
LOPAKHIN: There’s nothing remarkable about the orchard except that it’s a very big one. It only bears once every two years, and then you don’t know what to do with the fruit. Nobody wants to buy it.
GAYEF: Our cherry orchard is mentioned in Andreyevsky’s Encyclopaedia.
FIRS: In the old days, forty or fifty years ago, they used to dry the cherries and soak ‘em and pickle ‘em, and make jam of ‘em, and the dried cherries…
GAYEF: Shut up, Firs.
FIRS: The dried cherries used to be sent in wagons to Moscow and Kharkof. A heap of money! The dried cherries were soft and juicy and sweet and sweet-smelling them. They knew some way in those days.
MADAME RANEVSKY: And why don’t they do it now?
FIRS: They’ve forgotten. Nobody remembers how to do it.
GAYEF (opening the other window): The orchard is all white. You’ve not forgotten in, Lyuba? This long avenue going straight on, straight on, like a ribbon between the trees? It shines like silver on moonlight nights. Do you remember? You’ve not forgotten?
MADAME RANEVSKY (looking out into the garden): Oh, my childhood, my pure and happy childhood! I used to sleep in this nursery. I used to look out from here into the garden. Happiness awoke with me every morning! And the orchard was just the same then as it is now; nothing is altered. (Laughing with joy.) It is all white, all white! Oh, my cherry orchard! After the dark and stormy autumn and the frosts of winter you are young again and full of happiness; the angels of heaven have not abandoned you. Oh! If only I could free my neck and shoulders from the stone that weighs them down! If only I could forget my past!
GAYEF: I’ll go [to the bank] on Tuesday and talk [the loan] over again. (To BARBARA) Don’t howl! (To ANYA) Your mamma shall have a talk with Lopakhin. Of course he won’t refuse her. And as soon as you are rested you must go to see your grandmother, the Countess, at Yaroslav. We’ll operate from three points, and the trick is done. We’ll pay the interest, I’m certain of it. (Taking sugar candy.) I swear on my honor, or whatever you will, the property shall not be sold. (Excitedly.) I swear by my hope of eternal happiness! There’s my hand on it. Call me a base, dishonorable man if I let it go to auction. I swear by my whole being.
LOPAKHIN: Excuse me, but in all my life I never met anybody so frivolous as you two, so crazy and unbusinesslike! I tell you in plain Russian your property is going to be sold, and you don’t seem to understand what I say.
MADAME RANEVSKY: Well, what are we to do? Tell us what you want us to do.
LOPAKHIN: Don’t I tell you every day? Every day I say the same thing over and over again. You must lease off the cherry orchard and the rest of the estate for villas […]
MADAME RANEVSKY: Villas and villa residents, oh, please… it’s so vulgar!
GAYEF: I quite agree with you.
LOPAKHIN: I shall either cry, or scream, or faint. I can’t stand it! You’ll be the death of me. (To GAYEF.) You’re an old woman!
ANYA: What have you done to me, Peter? Why is it that I no longer love the cherry orchard as I did? I used to love it so tenderly; I thought there was no better place on earth than our garden.
TROPHIMOF: […] Think, Anya, your grandfather, your great-grandfather and all your ancestors were serf-owners, owners of living souls. Do not human spirits look out at you from every tree in the orchard, from every leaf and every stem? Do you not hear human voices? …Oh! It is terrible. Your orchard frightens me. When I walk through it in the evening or at night, the rugged bark on the trees glows with a dim light, and the cherry trees seem to see all that happened a hundred and two hundred years ago in painful and oppressive dreams. […]
ANYA: The house we live in has long since ceased to be our house; and I shall go away, I give you my word.
TROPHIMOF: If you have the household keys, throw them in the well and go away. Be free, be free as the wind.
ANYA: How beautifully you put it!
MADAME RANEVSKY: Oh, if only I knew whether the property’s sold or not! It seems such an impossible disaster, that I don’t know what to think… I’m bewildered… I shall burst out screaming, I shall do something idiotic. Save me, Peter; say something to me, say something…
TROPHIMOF: Whether the property is sold to-day or whether it’s not sold, surely it’s all one? […] You mustn’t deceive yourself any longer; for once you must look the truth straight in the face.
MADAME RANEVSKY: […] You settle every important question so boldly; but tell me, Peter, isn’t that because you’re young, because you have never solved any question of your own as yet by suffering? […] show me just a finger’s breadth of consideration, take pity on me. Don’t you see? I was born here, my father and mother lived here, and my grandfather; I love this house; without the cherry orchard my life has no meaning for me, and if it must be sold, then for heaven’s sake tell me too! (Embracing TROPHIMOF and kissing him on the forehead.) My little boy was drowned here. (Crying.) Be gentle with me, dear, kind Peter.
MADAME RANEVSKY: Who bought it?
LOPAKHIN: […] I bid nine thousand more than the mortgage, and got it; and now the cherry orchard is mine! Mine! (Laughing.) Heaven’s alive! Just think of it! The cherry orchard is mine! Tell me that I’m drunk; tell me that I’m off my head; tell me that it’s all a dream! […] If only my father and my grandfather could rise from their graves and see the whole affair, how their Yermolai, their flogged and ignorant Yermolai, who used to run around barefooted in the winter, how this same Yermolai had bought a property that hasn’t its equal for beauty anywhere in the whole world! I have bought the property where my father and grandfather were slaves, where they weren’t even allowed into the kitchen. I’m asleep, it’s only a vision, it isn’t real… ‘Tis the fruit of imagination, wrapped in the mists of ignorance. […] Come everyone and see Yermolai Lopakhin lay his axe to the cherry orchard, come and see the trees fall down! We’ll fill the place with villas; our grandsons and great-grandsons shall see a new life here […] Here comes the new squire, the owner of the cherry orchard!
ANYA: Mamma! Are you crying, mamma? My dear, good, sweet mamma! Darling, I love you! I bless you! The cherry orchard is sold; it’s gone; it’s quite true, it’s quite true. But don’t cry, mamma, you’ve still got life before you, you’ve still got your pure and lovely soul. Come with me, darling; come away from here. We’ll plant a new garden, still lovelier than this. You will see it and understand, and happiness, deep, tranquil happiness will sink down on your soul, like the sun at eventide, and you’ll smile, mamma. Come, darling, come with me!
ANYA (in the doorway): Mamma says, will you stop cutting down the orchard till she has gone.
TROPHIMOF: Really, haven’t you got tact enough for that?
(Exit TROPHIMOF by the hall.)
LOPAKHIN: Of course, I’ll stop them at once. What fools they are!
(Exit after TROPHIMOF.)
(MADAME RANEVSKY and GAYEF remain alone [in the nursery.] They seem to have been waiting for this, throw their arms round each other’s necks and sob restrainedly and gently, afraid of being overheard.)
GAYEF (in despair): My sister! My sister!
MADAME RANEVSKY: Oh, my dear, sweet lovely orchard! My life, my youth, my happiness, farewell! Farewell!
ANYA (calling gaily, without) Mamma!
TROPHIMOF (gay and excited): Aoo!
MADAME RANEVSKY: One last look at the walls and the windows… Our dear mother sued to walk up and down this room.
GAYEF: My sister! My sister!
ANYA (without): Aoo!
MADAME RANEVSKY: We’re coming. (Exeunt.)
(The stage is empty. One hears all the doors being locked, and the carriages driving away. All is quiet. Amid the silence the thud of axes on the trees echoes sad and lonely. The sound of footsteps. FIRS appears in the doorway. He is dressed, as always, in his long coat and white waistcoat; he wears slippers. He is ill.)
FIRS (going to the door and trying the handle): Locked. They’ve gone. (Sitting on the sofa.) They’ve forgotten me. Never mind! I’ll sit here. […] Life has gone by as if I’d never lived. (Lying down.) I’ll lie down. There’s no strength left in you; there’s nothing, nothing. Ah, you… job-lot!
(He lies motionless. A distant sound is heard, as if from the sky, the sound of a string breaking, dying away, melancholy. Silence ensues, broken only by the stroke of the axe on the trees far away in the cherry orchard.)