The Cherry Orchard: Act II
Act II opens in the outdoors, in the summertime. The set consists of a bench; the town in visible in the background. Charlotte, Yasha, and Dunyasha are sitting on the bench; Ephikhodof is standing, playing a guitar. Charlotte is dressed for hunting, and is cleaning her gun. She meditates out loud on her past; she is an orphan who spent her childhood performing tricks in county fairs, and she describes her continuing feelings of isolation.
No one else appears to be listening. Ephikhodof mistakes his guitar for a mandolin, and a brief comic exchange follows, wherein Ephikhodof focuses his attention on Dunyasha, Dunyasha fawns over Yasha, and Yasha smokes a cigar and admires himself. Charlotte enthusiastically attempts to join in on the bungled conversation, but no one wants to talk to her, and she leaves in something of a huff. Ephikhodof tries to get Dunyasha alone, but she sends him away so she can be alone with Yasha. The two of them have a rather comic and pretentious conversation, which informs the audience that they have become romantically involved. With the noise of another party approaching, Dunyasha scurries off to protect their secret romance.
Madame Ranevsky, Gayef, and Lopakhin enter the scene; Lopakhin is trying to convince Madame Ranevsky to sell the cherry orchard. She changes the subject by complaining about Yasha's cigar. Three conversations ensue: Lopakhin demands an answer, but no one responds to him, Gayef considers the railroad to himself, and Madame Ranevsky ponders her dwindling funds and her excessiveness. She drops her purse and Yasha picks up the coins. Madame Ranevsky complains that she spent too much money at lunch; she then complains that Gayef had another tirade, which embarrassed her, and Lopakhin agrees. Yasha laughs out loud at Gayef's foolishness, and Madame Ranevsky sends him away.
Lopakhin insists on the subject of the cherry orchard; there is a millionaire interested in the property. Gayef and Madame Ranevsky discuss the prospect of their wealthy aunt sending them money, but Lopakhin is scandalized to hear the amount they expect; it is nowhere near enough to pay the interest on the mortgage. Lopakhin insists that they build villas and sell them to save themselves financially; Madame Ranevsky and Gayef do not focus on the practicality of this suggestion, but, rather, moan about how tedious they find villa residents.
Madame Ranevsky follows this discussion by criticizing herself for the bad luck she has brought on herself during her life. She married an alcoholic, and when he died, followed shortly by her son, she went off with another man. She cared for this man through his illnesses, and he repaid her by robbing her in Paris and finding another woman. Madame Ranevsky attempted suicide, but instead returned to Russia. Her outpour is prompted by the fact that she has just received another telegram from her lover, asking her to return to Paris. She rips up the telegram and discusses a band, heard in the distance, with Gayef.
Lopakhin talks about his peasant roots again, referencing his poor penmanship as a symbol of his original class, and Madame Ranevsky advises him to marry, suggesting Barbara as a wife. Lopakhin goes along with the conversation, but his words do not betray enthusiasm. Gayef announces he has been offered a position in a bank, and Madame Ranevsky scoffs.
Firs enters, bringing a coat for Gayef, and through a misunderstanding, begins to discuss his recollections of the Liberation. Trophimof, Anya, and Barbara enter, and everyone sits. Lopakhin teases Trophimof about being escorted by two girls and being such an old student, and Trophimof responds by citing Lopakhin's carnivorous economic tendencies. Everyone laughs at the joke, although it may be truer than they would like. Madame Ranevsky begs Trophimof to continue a philosophical discussion from the day before; as he embellishes his ideas on the nature of man, we discover him to be another idealist, and full of good sense.
Gayef interrupts the mood by making an embarrassing ode to nature. An owl is heard, and Firs announces that a great misfortune is coming, just as it did before; he is referring to the Liberation. A tramp enters, startling the party, and begs for money, Madame Ranevsky cannot find any small change, and so gives him a considerable sum. The tramp exits, and Barbara howls in despair at her mother's spending. Madame Ranevsky announces that she has arranged the marriage for Barbara and Lopakhin. Barbara is mortified, and Lopakhin wriggles out of the situation by misquoting Hamlet.
Everyone exits except for Anya and Trophimof. Trophimof ponders that Barbara never lets them alone, and Anya considers that Trophimof has made her cease to love the cherry orchard as she once did. They both have larger, philosophical issues on their mind. Trophimof explains how the orchard makes him feel; although it is two hundred years old and has seen so much history, it frightens him that it has seen so little positive change. They philosophize together about the future; they have a romantic relationship, although being the idealists that they are, their relationship is not sexual. Barbara calls Anya into the house, and they exit.
Act I is thematically occupied with the development of different characters' strengths and weaknesses. These themes are demonstrated again during Act II, but the central issue in Act II is the development of the play's views on Russian history, social and economic change, and the concept of progress.
These ideas of social change are demonstrated in the personalities and actions of the characters. For example, the moment when Madam Ranevsky drops her purse is a symbolic one. She is talking to herself, complaining that she spends more than she should, when she drops her purse and spills her money. This action is an accident, yet it differs very slightly from the way she behaves in general. She complains that she does not have enough money to pay her own mortgage. Then, moments later, she gives Pishtchik money for his mortgage. She laments that there is barely enough for the servants of the household to eat, and then dines at restaurants and tips the waiters in gold. Her words suggest that she wants to save her money, but her actions always betray a tendency to the opposite. She is careless with her purse, whether she is dropping her money deliberately or not. After she drops it in the garden, Yasha scurries to her side to help her collect the coins; this picture continues the symbolism established at the beginning of this sequence. Although Yasha is only helping his employer to collect what she has dropped, his eagerness to help with this particular task parallels the way in which he shadows Madame Ranevsky so that he might benefit personally from her own excessive tendencies with her purse.
Another thematically loaded moment in Act II immediately follows the incident of the spilled coins; Lopakhin tries to persuade Madame Ranevsky and Gayef to sell their property as villas, and they will have none of it. The siblings hesitate for two reasons. In Act I, they explained that their estate and cherry orchard are too important to be torn down; at this moment, in Act II, they condemn the idea of dealing with villa residents as "vulgar." This exchange between the decaying aristocratic family and Lopakhin, the wealthy former serf, illustrates many of the important social issues at work in the play. Now that the serfs have been freed, the older upper class no longer has an economic position with such long-term security. However, Madame Ranevsky and Gayef appear incapable of taking any economic threat seriously. It is interesting that the prospect of having villa residents is so distasteful to them. Villa residents would not come from old money, as Madame Ranevsky and Gayef do, but would rather come from the nouveau rich created by the rearrangement of the Russian classes. Madame Ranevsky and Gayefs' resistance to Lopakhin's suggestions therefore illustrates their inability to adapt to their changing society; they continue to think themselves somehow above their problems and above having to depend on people from common families. The intrigue of the play revolves around whether or not they can overcome this current blindness to their necessity to adapt.
Firs addresses this same issue in his entrance; he recalls the happiness of the serfs immediately following the Liberation, but laments that they did not understand why they should be happy. At least before the Liberation, Russia was an ordered society. Although the Liberation created a more fair class system, it did not necessarily improve the lives of individuals or create a stronger country. Firs' choice to remain with Madame Ranevsky and Gayef, despite his freedom, demonstrates the same reservations about social change that they have, but from a different class perspective.
Trophimof has a much stronger presence in this act, and his philosophical remarks further meshes out the ideology of the play. Trophimof is the only character in the play who consistently speaks words of wisdom. The tensions he meshes out in his own views of Russian society may represent the thesis of the play as a whole, as many of the details he points out are directly dealt with in the action. Through his final discussion on the cherry orchard, Trophimof contrasts the idea of change with the idea of progress. While he is apparently in favor of the freedom of the serfs, he also does not consider the Liberation as a source of positive social change. He is optimistic, in that he hopes Russia and humanity will correct their shortcomings in the future, but he is also realistic, in that he views the Liberation as necessary change, but not sufficient.