Madame Ranevsky is one of the leading characters in the play. She is the owner of the cherry orchard estate, and she is a woman with a complicated history. She comes from an aristocratic family, but she married beneath her, and her husband was an alcoholic. She had three children with him before his death: Barbara, Anya, and Grisha. Grisha drowned shortly after his father's death, causing Madame Ranevsky to flee in despair. Grisha died approximately five years before Act I. Madame Ranevsky took a lover in Paris, and abusive man who robbed her and took another mistress. She is returning to Russia after leaving him.
Madame Ranevsky has accumulated many debts upon her arrival in Russia, and cannot pay the mortgage on her estate. Throughout the play, her debts are a symbol of her personality; she is an excessive woman who does whatever her emotions incline her to do, regardless of consequences, financial or otherwise. One moment she cries in panic and despair about how to pay her mortgage, yet the next moment she gives her neighbor a healthy loan to pay his own. Her behavior is irrational, and that characteristic is both her most charismatic quality and her most serious weakness.
Of all of the characters in this play, Madame Ranevsky is among those with no capacity to adapt to a changing society. She continues to be generous with her friends, and even with strangers, living the life of a kind and wealthy aristocrat, even though the power of the aristocracy no longer ensures her any wealth, and the few assets that she has are dwindling quickly. She tells herself that she can control her purse and abandon her horrible lover, yet she cannot keep even these most fundamental of resolutions. Even after losing the cherry orchard, Madame Ranevsky remains sadly unable to change: she continues to surround herself with expensive and suspicious help, such as Yasha, and she rejoins her lover in Paris, despite his abusive history.
Yermolai Alexeyitch Lopakhin
Lopakhin is the other lead character in The Cherry Orchard. He is a neighbor of Madame Ranevsky, perhaps in his thirties, unmarried. His father and grandfather were serfs on the cherry orchard estate all of their lives. Although he was born into a family of serfs, Lopakhin has managed to use the Liberation of the serfs to his full advantage and is now a wealthy landowner and a shrewd businessman.
The change in class Lopakhin has experienced during his lifetime is amazing; at the end of the pay, he is not only a wealthy man, but he is the owner of the estate where he was born a serf. Lopakhin is a symbolic character in that he epitomizes the success possible for the newly freed serfs. However, while his bank account makes him more powerful than the aristocratic former owners of the estate, he is an interesting specimen because he still has qualities that betray his modest beginnings. He is well dressed and respected, yet he is not literary or cultured; both his preposterous misquotings of Hamlet and his poor penmanship embarrass him.
Lopakhin's talent for business distinguishes him from the other characters; this attribute is both his best and worst quality. His preoccupation with money and success are his trademark. On the one hand, his savvy allows him great personal success with finances; he has completely overcome the poverty he was born into. On the other hand, as Barbara points out, he is almost too preoccupied with business to enjoy important aspects of humanity, such as love and friendship. In some sense, his appetite for business opportunities leads him to betray Madame Ranevsky, his first benefactor, by buying and cutting down her cherry orchard. Lopakhin is a complicated character, and he can be portrayed as a villain, a hero, or something in between the two. The ambiguity in his character is precisely what makes him, and all the other characters in the play, so mesmerizing to the audience.
Leonid Andreyitch Gayef
Gayef is Madame Ranevsky's older unmarried brother. He has no particular profession, and apparently lives off of the family fortune. He and Lopakhin do not get along; there is evidence to suggest that Gayef resents Lopakhin's success, for he treats all of the non-aristocratic characters with derision.
It is ironic that Gayef can be snobbish towards other characters, because he himself is a walking disaster. He is constantly running off at the mouth and embarrassing himself. His trademark behavior is an imaginary game of billiards; whenever he has put his foot in his mouth, he acts like he is playing billiards to distract himself and others. He is humorous, but he is clumsy and ungraceful. He clearly demonstrates that being of the nobility and being a noble person are two mutually separable categories.
Although he is a constant social catastrophe, Gayef does demonstrate some ability to adapt that his sister lacks. Although he is never effective, he is always dissuading her spending. Moreover, at the end of the play, he is one character who makes a somewhat positive decision, accepting a modest position in a bank. In some ways this job is a step down, but it is also a step into reality, something which many of the characters in the play do not attain.
Barbara is Madame Ranevsky' oldest daughter. She is somewhat old to still be single, perhaps in her twenties; her family anticipates that she will marry Lopakhin, and although she would like to, Lopakhin never proposes to her. Barbara virtually runs the estate, a fact visually represented onstage by the massive ring of keys she wears at her waist. She is a controlling person, but she cannot look out for her mother as well as she looks out for the servants. She cries frequently, usually over her mother's spending or Lopakhin's mixed signals.
Barbara's controlling practicality is her best and worst quality. On the one hand, her level head keeps the estate running when there is no money to run it with; on the other hand, the responsibility she feels towards the cherry orchard causes her nothing but grief and stress. Her desire to help and be productive keeps the household running as it drives everyone mad. Barbara's greatest wish is to join a convent or become a pilgrim. At the end of the play she takes on a position as a housekeeper.
Anya is Madame Ranevsky's youngest daughter, in her teens, the complete opposite of her fretful, responsible older sister. Anya is very innocent and appears very much a child. She is usually happy. She is an idealist, like Trophimof, but she is not as philosophical as he. Her happiness is inspiring, helping the family even through these hardships, yet it does not accomplish anything concretely productive. Anya can comfort her mother with her optimism, but she cannot influence her. It is unclear whether Anya's idealist attitude will be enough to bring her success.
Trophimof is an important character in the play because, amid a world full of people like Madame Ranevsky and Gayef, he consistently speaks some sort of sense. He tutored Madame Ranevsky's deceased son, and as such, represents the past, although he is very concerned with the future. He is an idealist and a student. His intellectual qualities both empower him, by leading him to demand more from Russia and humanity than any other character, and hinder him, by making him appear a bit inaccessible, emotionally. The play creates a romantic tension between him and Anya, which he is too philosophical to act upon. He often speaks wisely, but he holds a powerless position and is not able to exert influence.
Firs was born a serf on Madame Ranevsky's estate, and although the serfs have been freed, Firs remains on the estate because he has no other opportunities. Although he and Lopakhin share the same background, Firs has not been able to adapt to the changing society as Lopakhin has. Firs is a figure who represents time, a character who symbolizes the old class system. At the end of the play, he is accidentally left behind, and he presumably dies onstage. His death marks the passing of the old class system, the passing of the aristocracy's reign on the cherry orchard, and the passing of a phase in Russian history.
Dunyasha is a young servant on the cherry orchard. She enjoys the attention of Ephikhodof, but is far more interested in Yasha, with whom she enjoys a romance. She is a comic character who represents many of the class issues at work in the play. Despite her humble station, Dunyasha fancies herself a lady, and her pretensions constitute some of the funniest moments in the play. These dreams of hers are both irritating and hopeful because they are all possible. Her character has a serious function when one regards her interactions with other characters: Lopakhin and Firs, for example. Both men criticize Dunyasha for not remembering her station. This criticism is ironic because both of these men are former serfs who defy conventional classifications of station. Consequently, Dunyasha's character serves to focus attention to hypocrisy, as well as hope: in this new topsy-turvy social order, no one is in a position to criticize Dunyasha's plans.
Yasha is Madame Ranevsky's man-servant. Like Dunyasha, he is young, from the village, and extremely pretentious. He is involved with Dunyasha. He is also a very comic character, although he is also the only character in the play who seems truly cold and without consideration for anyone but himself. He follows Madame Ranevsky around like a parasite, feeding off of her loose control of her purse and begging to be taken abroad. He is a snob to most everyone, often openly rude and insulting to others in public. He refuses to see his own mother, a villager. Yasha is the only character in the play who does not appear to have any redeeming personality traits.
Simeon Panteleyitch Ephikhodof
Ephikhodof is a young clerk who works on the estate. He is a comic character, and his nickname is "Twenty-Two Misfortunes" (or "Two and Twenty Hard Knocks," depending on the translation). His entrances and exits are generally marked by his falling on or off stage. He is infatuated with Dunyasha, but she does not return his interest. At the end of the play, Lopakhin employs him. Ephikhodof is an optimistic figure, because despite the disasters which constantly follow him, he is always relatively happy. He accepts fate as it comes to him, and he deals with it calmly, if not gracefully. He also has an enormous capacity to laugh at himself, and this ability perhaps contributes to his good humor. Perhaps his significance is that we should never take ourselves too seriously: if we do, we will be disappointed, but if we don't, we can still be content even under adversity.
Charlotte is Anya's governess, although she is no longer employed at the end of the play. She is an orphan, and she is popular for her magic tricks. She is a strange character, generally treated as more of a spectacle than a person, and many of her lines address her own isolation. She is not depressed; on the contrary, she is lively and energetic, but neither does she bring great cheer to the play. Depending on the performance, she can be either an amusing or an uncomfortable character to watch.
Pishtchik is a land-owning neighbor of the cherry orchard. He is always impressed with Charlotte's magic tricks, and he is a very social fellow, always making successful jokes where others fail. He spends the play in debt, although he is able to pay off some of it at the end. His requests for loans can often be interpreted as disrespectful and selfish, as Madame Ranevsky does not have enough money for her own debt. However, because Pishtchik is able to pay some of his loans at the end of the play, he is one character who may achieve a sort of redemption through the course of the drama. The miracle that saves his estate is an optimistic aspect to the end of the play, although the fact that he has forgotten that Madame Ranevsky must leave is not.
The Cherry Orchard Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Cherry Orchard is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Again, the Cherry Orchard shows the demise of the Russian aristocracy, and the ensuing rise of those in the lower classes (serfs). Social change revolves around the emancipation of these serfs due to reforms put in place by political change.