The Cherry Orchard: Act IV
The scene opens in October, in the same room as Act I, but now the furniture is piled in a corner. Gayef and Madame Ranevsky stand outside, saying good-bye to the peasants. Madame Ranevsky gives them her purse, and Gayef chides her. They go into another room, and Lopakhin attempts to call them back to have some champagne, held by Yasha. They will not have any, and Yasha drinks the champagne instead, criticizing its quality as he sips, while Lopakhin defends its worth.
Trophimof enters, looking for his galoshes so he can prepare to leave. He will see the family into town, and then return to the university in Moscow. Lopakhin makes a joke about how old Trophimof is to be a student; although Trophimof is irked at the joked, he and Lopakhin share a very tender farewell. Trophimof declines Lopakhin's offers of champagne and money, but he accepts an embrace, and advises Lopakhin not to draw too much attention to himself. Trophimof is still looking for his galoshes; Barbara throws a pair at him from offstage. Lopakhin again insists on giving Trophimof money, not out of pity, but as a sign of respect. Trophimof, however, then insists that as a free man, he cannot accept Lopakhin's money. The sound of axes is heard, and Anya enters to ask that they stop cutting down the orchard until the family has left. Lopakhin is embarrassed and exits after Trophimof to see to the request.
Anya asks Yasha if Firs has been sent to the hospital. Yasha says he thinks so, but Anya asks Ephikhodof to find out for sure. Yasha is insulted that she does not accept his answer, and Ephikhodof lightly comments that he wishes he were as close to death as Firs. Barbara enters the room and asks if Firs has gone to the doctor, and Anya responds yes, although she has yet to receive a definite answer. Barbara ponders why, if Firs has left for the hospital, the note for the doctor has been left behind. Anya exits to send the note after him. Barbara announces to Yasha that his mother wants to say good-bye; Yasha responds with irritation. Barbara disappears, and Dunyasha enters, crying over Yasha. Yasha is not moved; he is excited about going to Paris, and brushes Dunyasha off. His action is cold, but it is unclear whether or not Dunyasha is crying because she is upset or because it seems the glamorous thing to do.
Madame Ranevsky, Gayef, Anya, and Charlotte enter. Madame Ranevsky acts excited about her new life, and Gayef looks forward to his new job. Anya is not going with her mother; she is going to study, and she and her mother plan their anticipated reunion. Charlotte sings, holding a bundle as though it were a baby, and then throws the bundle away as she announces she is now without a position. Madame Ranevsky insists she will find Charlotte a new job.
Pishtchik enters, exhausted from his walk. He has somehow come into some money, and he pays Lopakhin and Madame Ranevsky a token portion of the debt he accrued with them. Only after explaining his luck does he realize Madame Ranevsky is leaving; he begins crying as he says his good-byes, and wishes her well before he exits.
Madame Ranevsky takes care of her final business. Anya again confirms that Firs has been to the hospital. Then Madame Ranevsky pushes Lopakhin one final time to marry Barbara. Lopakhin agrees that he will propose, and goes to offer the champagne again, but Yasha has drunk it all.
After Madame Ranevsky, Anya, Charlotte, Gayef, and Yasha have left, Barbara enters. Lopakhin inquires as to her plans now that the cherry orchard has been sold. Barbara says she has taken a position as a housekeeper, and Lopakhin replies that he has asked Ephikhodof to take on the cherry orchard for him. Lopakhin exits, without proposing, and Barbara sits on the floor and cries for a moment. The entire household re-enters, and everyone picks up luggage and says their final good-byes; the scene is chaotic. Gradually everyone leaves the room, save Madame Ranevsky and Gayef, who share one final moment of nostalgia while Anya calls them away from without. Finally, he responds to her calls, and the room is empty for a moment.
As the doors are locked from without, Firs enters. He has been forgotten, left behind. He complains that he does not feel well, and lies on an old bench. He is still for a moment, and the play ends.
Act IV is an act when many of the play's loose ends come together. At the same time, the end of the play also remains ambiguous, and a performance may choose to either alleviate or preserve some of the loose ends that the text does not provide definite answers to.
Act IV is an act when many characters are most themselves. Lopakhin and Trophimof, for example, share a stunning good-bye. They are fond of each other, and they each make a gesture towards one another which acts as a sign of their respect for one another. Their gestures, however, differentiate in such a way that they are complete and true expressions of each man's own personality. Trophimof, for example, analyzes Lopakhin and gives him advice. This sort of mental exercise is what Trophimof, the philosophical idealist, does best, and although his words are somewhat critical, they are also well-meaning. Lopakhin, true to his recent success and consequent sense for the financial, offers Trophimof a small sum of money as a parting gift. He takes care to explain that he offers the money not out of pity, but out of respect, because he understands how inconsequential ideas of loss can be. They each offer the other the best thing they have that the other can find useful: Trophimof offers wisdom, and Lopakhin offers free money. We cannot quite know if Lopakhin follows Trophimof's advice, but we do know that Trophimof is too philosophical to accept Lopakhin's money. In this sense, their gestures are somewhat stunted, yet the scene remains extremely tender nonetheless, optimistically demonstrating that such different individuals have more in common than one would expect at the beginning of the play.
Although Lopakhin and Trophimof part so gracefully, not all of the characters' final appearances inspire optimism. While things are looking up for Pishtchik and Anya radiates hope, Charlotte forces the audience to remember that this final parting of ways is not joyous for everyone. The loss of the cherry orchard does not only affect Madame Ranevsky; as a result of the sale, Charlotte finds herself unemployed, with an uncertain future. Ephikhodof, Barbara, and Gayef have new jobs, and self-centered Yasha is allowed to travel with Madame Ranevsky, but loyal Firs is left behind altogether, and Barbara's hopes for romance with Lopakhin are dashed. In this way, the ending of the play is mixed, for while some see great opportunities ahead, other characters suffer great losses.
When Madame Ranevsky and her brother leave their family home for the final time, there is a sense that they have come to peace with the loss of the estate. The two of them look forward to the future, and their enthusiasm is contagious even if the audience doubts their abilities. It is another character, a much more minor character, who provides perhaps the most symbolic moment to Act IV: Firs. Act IV ends with Firs unmoving and unconscious, perhaps dead, forgotten, locked in the house where he was born a serf. In some ways it does not even matter whether or not he is dead: he might as well be. His position at the end of the play is symbolic ad can be read as a metaphor for the passing of the old order in Russia. This man was born a serf, and although he lived through the Liberation, he chose to maintain his position in the household because he had no other opportunities. Liberation was meaningless to him, and he stayed loyal to the family his whole life. The family, however, did not stay loyal to him; for all his service, no one could even be bothered to confirm whether this sick old man had been sent to the hospital, properly cared for. This negligence provides an extremely sharp criticism of the other characters' priorities: themselves. The fact that Firs has been forgotten demonstrates a lack of respect to Firs as a person, to his long service with the family, and to all the serfs that the Russia of Chekhov's day would not be held responsible for.
It is unclear whether or not Firs has died in the final scene, and while this neglect seems cold, it is not entirely pessimistic. Firs dies symbolically, and his immobility in the last scene indicates the passing of the old order. The class system, after so much upheaval, begins to settle down again with the passing of time, the deaths of the former serfs, and the integration of their children into society. Firs' presumable death is the last phase in a long process of change, beginning with former serfs like Lopakhin gaining power, the aristocracy losing power, and ending with the deaths of those who continued to live by the old system. In some ways, The Cherry Orchard describes nothing more than the growing pains of a society, and the fact that the play ends with a potential death should not be used to label the play a tragedy. The play describes the cycle of life, and it is important that we do not know for certain whether these characters will succeed or fail, live or die, because such an ending would rob the play of its greatest asset: its infinite possibilities. It is the play's ambiguity that provides so many interpretations and so many morals to so many different people.