Čexov’s Cherry Orchard: The Cultural Subtext

Joseph L. Conrad, University of Kansas

Many features of Čexov’s dramatic technique represented in The Cherry Orchard have been noted: lack of communication; emphasis on time and its passing; sound effects, e.g., the breaking string, et al. Missing from this list is the underlying element of folklore as a basis for understanding the text. Cultural, and subliminal aspects are contained in the derivation of the names of each character; consider, for example: Ljubov’ Andreevna Ranevskaja: Despite her forename (and her position as matriarch) no serious love matches are made in the play; her patronymic is based on that of the patron of unmarried women (St. Andrej); and she is neither early nor even on time. Between her and Firs, the last to appear, each character bears a name which is ironic. For example. Firs, the old manservant’s name, is based on Greek thursos/thyrsos, a staff decorated with flowers and carried at the head of festival processions; contrary to the usual expectations of a standard bearer, he is neither a leader nor a respected member of the dramatis personae. Relevant etymologies for each character are examined and shown how they are ironic (i.e., not casually chosen). Comments will also be made concerning significance of the stage settings and folk beliefs. Finally, although this is a play about love and marriage, it is one in which no one is successful. Despite the fact that there are many potential couples, and much potential happiness, alas, none comes to fruition. Irony permeates the work from the first moment to the last words of this “comedy.”