Many of the characters in The Cherry Orchard are shown to be actively fighting against—or struggling to contain—feelings of love and sentimentality as the play goes on. The radical Peter Trophimof believes himself “above love,” even though he harbors unresolved feelings for Anya; Barbara is passively waiting on a proposal from the wealthy Lopakhin, a proposal that may never come; Dunyasha longs to prove herself a sentimental lady in order to appeal to the cultured but priggish Yasha; Madame Ranevsky’s cruel lover, off in Paris, has jilted her more times than she can count and yet she still harbors feelings for him. As Chekhov’s characters dance around their true feelings—sometimes literally—the playwright shows that to treat sentimentality as a vulnerability or even a liability is as harmful as diving headlong into one’s feelings without any consideration for others. Chekhov ultimately argues that total denial of one’s feelings is just as harmful as overindulgence in or manufacturing of them, and that in order to be good to one another, people must relate to one another honestly and openly.
Many characters throughout the play attempt to deny sentimentality—most notably Trophimof, whose repeated proclamation that he is “above love” directly contradicts his romantic feelings for the beautiful and aristocratic Anya. Trophimof, a perpetual student who has long served as the family’s tutor, is a revolutionary with radical ideals about the failings of the middle class, the dangers of a lazy life as a passive member of the “intelligentsia,” and the evils of both wealth and sentiment, and he places his treasured ideals above his own feelings. In doing so, he hurts both Anya—to whom he promises the approach of happiness but denies his affections, effectively leading her on—and Madame Ranevsky—whose grief he writes off as sentimental, despite having witnessed firsthand, as Grisha’s tutor, the intense pain the woman felt at the time of her child’s loss. Chekhov uses Trophimof to show how a rejection of sentimentality on the grounds of clear-eyed revolutionary thinking—or allegiance to ideals above all else—is cruel. Trophimof’s total denial of his ability to feel, give, and desire love and empathy is one extreme—but the overindulgence in sentimentality is the other, and Chekhov does not favor either end of the spectrum.
Though Chekhov implicitly indicts Trophimof’s cruel, cold rejection of sentimentality, he also takes an unforgiving view of excessive romanticism of one’s circumstances. Dunyasha’s desire to give herself over to sentimentality is born out of her desire to appear more like a lady. In the midst of the burgeoning social upheaval throughout Russia, Dunyasha longs to rise above her station and appear more upper—or at least middle—class. She thinks that by affecting the nervous demeanor, fluttering disposition, and simpering weakness of a “lady,” she will make herself more refined—not to mention more attractive to the cruel but “cultured” Yasha. Dunyasha’s overindulgence in sentimentalism is shown in a comic light throughout the play, and as Dunyasha affects increasingly ridiculous habits and patterns of speech, Chekhov indicts her sentimentality at least as violently as Trophimof’s calculated, self-denying pragmatism. Madame Ranevsky’s sentimental disposition, too, is examined in both comic and tragic lights throughout the play. Her longing for the past, evidenced through her delving constantly into childhood memories as she returns to her family’s estate, as well as her inability to resist the allure of being loved (shown through her constant waffling over whether or not to respond to her cruel ex-lover’s telegrams from Paris) is clearly contemptible to Chekhov. As Ranevsky laments the loss of her youth and happiness—and her desire for her lover despite knowing that he is like a gorgeous but heavy necklace, slowly throttling her—Chekhov imbues her character with a tilt toward sentimentalism that Dunyasha imitates and Trophimof abhors, demonstrating how sentimentalism, though often born of very real and intense feelings, can make even the most genuine suffering appear cartoonish and showy.
The Cherry Orchard was written as a comedy but is often performed as a tragedy—as it was in its world premiere at the Moscow Art Theater in 1904. The confusion as to the play’s genre seems to stem from Chekhov’s desire to lampoon both sentimentality and cold indifference. There is very real tragedy within the pages of the play, but his characters’ sentimentality is often over-exaggerated to the point of parody. Chekhov laments the affected emotional extremes that people so often succumb to, and in many ways uses The Cherry Orchard to argue for measured but genuine emotional expression and intelligence—both onstage and off.
Love and Sentimentality ThemeTracker
Love and Sentimentality 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: Do you know how old this cupboard is, Lyuba? A week ago I pulled out the bottom drawer and saw a date burnt on it. That cupboard was made exactly a hundred years ago. What do you think of that, eh? We might celebrate its jubilee. It’s only an inanimate thing, but for all that it’s a historic cupboard.
GAYEF (touching the cupboard): Yes, it’s a wonderful thing… Beloved and venerable cupboard; honor and glory to your existence, which for more than a hundred years has been directed to the noble ideals of justice and virtue. Your silent summons to profitable labor has never weakened in all these hundred years. (Crying.) You have upheld the courage of succeeding generations of our human kind; you have upheld faith in a better future and cherished in us ideals of goodness and social consciousness. (A pause.)
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.
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.)