The extract taken from lines….. Act II of The Cherry Orchard written by Anton Chekhov introduces us to the plot development of the play, and gives us an insight into the protagonist Louba Ranevsky’s character. I consider the extract very significant as through this dramatic monologue Louba delineates her escapades, her foibles, her illusions and her quandary- a life put to the test of time at every turn and corner. It is very conducive in inferring and analyzing what kind of a personality she is!
The dramatist portrays her as an aristocratic lady, the owner of her ancestral Cherry Orchard. The extract is in itself sufficient enough to help us decipher the intricate web of her life that Louba is weaving. She is so lost in the reminiscences of the past that she hardly ventures to reconcile to the present. She vacillates in her resolutions unwaveringly, being metaphorically blind, and is wholly, swayed by her emotions rather than reason. The context of the lines is Lopakhin’s sincere advice to Louba to get the Cherry Orchard transformed into villas in order that she can pay her debts. but it is the irony of the human kind that a man can be sometimes so tethered to his material roots that truth does not dawn on him; and so it happens to Louba, when Lopakhin’s advice falls on her deaf ears. He warns her “In all my life I never met anyone 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 say2.” .
Louba has had an unfortunate lot to her share. She gets married to an alcoholic who nips in the bud all her dreams of a happy nuptial. His speculations crash and the debts prove insurmountable, leaving Louba in a pathetic state. Coward as he was, he seeks refuge in alcohol, and consequently renders his ghost shortly. The malignant fate had other disasters in store for her-her son Grisha drowns in a river shortly. To overcome the tragedies the woebegone Louba decides to flee to France with a view never to return to Russia, where annals of her woe were scripted.
She shows her spirit, her valor and volition in venturing to give new dimension to her deplorable life. But as fate would have it, she once again finds herself stuck in the vicious circle of life when she falls in love with a libertine. Louba’s heart is filled with the milk of human kindness, be it for her paramour or her motherland, and she tends to the needs of her lover to the letter. She buys a villa in Mentone for the sick man, and craves for an ample reward from the heavens for her selfless love and devotion. Man proposes; god disposes. The abusive man embezzles all her funds, forsakes her, maltreats her and makes an illicit liaison with another woman. The land parts under her feet, and she finds her last resort in committing suicide. But the fate will further test her on the anvil of time. She survives, and feels inclined to her motherland, where her aristocratic roots personified in the Cherry Orchard are still living!
The cherry orchard is a tragic-comic play that follows on the lines of Aristotelian drama. The structure of the passage and the broken and intermittent sentence structure unravel the tragic plight of Louba. But her tone though regretful is ironical, and is helpful in giving vent to her nostalgia. The extract presents her as a lady aware of her mistakes and her sinful life, but a lady never ready to budge an inch given her fantasies and idiosyncrasies. She is shown as a religious lady who is willing to make amends but being an enigmatic personality, she is so devoid of reason that her resolutions are adrift in the mere gust of wind, and she seeks light even in the deep darkness of Erebus. Even her tearing up the telegram is a farce.
Louba decides to return to her glorious and enormous cherry orchard in her Russia after a span of five years. The sight of her orchard is soothing and it helps her get the better of her miseries and agonies of the past to some extent. But the digging of the past is irksome and atrocious more often than not, and so it happens with her. A mere look at Tropimof rakes the concealed memories, and the present becomes a living hell when she goes through the phantasmagoria of her husband’s and son’s untimely deaths. And it is all the more heart rending to realize that her ancestral roots are under a mortgage. She is enraptured in the reminiscences of her idyllic childhood, and harbors the illusion of her mother wading through the aisles of the cherry orchard. The memories seem to have transcended her when she says:
“Oh, my childhood, my innocent childhood! This is the nursery where I slept and I used to look out at the orchard from here! Look, Mother’s walking in the orchard. … Dressed in white! That’s she”3
But she is as incorrigible as a teen and even the sickle of Time has not been able to evoke any conscience on her person. Time has moved at a merry pace between her visits to Russia. Serfdom has been abolished and it is the time of Liberation and a fair class system. Although there is a radical change in Russian history, economy and history, Louba is still impervious to the new order. She considers the nouveau rich as vulgar as in her eyes the word rich has deeper connotations, and it is confined to the aristocratic only. She loathes the nouveau rich as they do not come from the “old money” but as a result of the rearrangement of the Russian classes. She cannot reconcile to the fact that there exists a class of rich people that does not hail from the aristocrats. Delusion so grips her that she still considers herself a rich aristocrat, even in the wake Liberation, and romanticizes the past. Although her assets are dwindling fast, she sticks to excessiveness, affectations and generosity by throwing lavish parties, banquets luncheons, and donating gold pieces in alms to the destitute.
The Cherry Orchard is a symbol of life, glory and pride for her.
“Cut it down? My dear man, you must excuse me, but you don’t understand anything at all. If there’s anything interesting or remarkable in the whole province, it’s this cherry orchard of ours”4
To her felling of the cherry orchard symbolizes the end of aristocracy. She still harbors the illusion that her rich aunt will come for her rescue. She waits for a miracle, still keeping faith in the exuberance of her stars, and exclaims:
“My love is like a stone tied round my neck; it’s dragging me down to the bottom; but I love my stone. I can’t live without it5.”
The old order changeth, yielding place to new6
The inevitable strikes and it is the advent of the dreadful August- the time for the auction of The Cherry Orchard. Time is powerful enough to teach everyone except Louba a lesson of changing according to time. Life comes full circle making them go through all the crises of their lives, and adapt themselves to the changing conditions. Barbara takes the job of housekeeper; Gayef finds a humble position in a bank. In the wake of her inaction, The Cherry Orchard is auctioned. Lopakhin emerges as the serf turned owner of Louba’s ancestral estate. Those who confront change succumb; Firs is dead and Louba is penniless but again nostalgic, “To look at the walls and the windows for the last time. … My dead mother used to like to walk about this room.7” Good-bye, dear house, old grandfather. The winter will go, the spring will come, and then you’ll exist no more, you’ll be pulled down”8
Yet she is impregnable as ever and weaves dreams of conciliating with her demon lover again in Paris. She once again moves ahead for a bleak future, keeping Firs (unaware that he is dead) and Charlotte still in her retinue, with no resource, no abode, no future, never comprehending even for a moment the repercussion of crossing the Rubicon.