The Cherry Orchard: A Symphony of Mortality

Jerome H. Katsell, Independent Scholar

Chekhov started writing The Cherry Orchard in Yalta in February 1903. His disease
was possessing his whole body, moving to his intestines and his bowels.

V.S. Pritchett

The focus in this paper is on the ever-circling, centripetal pull of mortality as theme in The Cherry Orchard. From the intended arrival of Ranevskaja and her entourage at the bewitching hour of midnight to Simeonov-Piščik’s narcolepsy and Charlotta’s “baby,” the comic and devastatingly absurd fragility of life is at the center of Čexov’s vision. This pulsing of mortality is expressed through a rich language tapestry in which particular strands adhere to concepts bundled around terms like “sleep,” “peace-death,” “end,” “break,” “age” and “lost beauty.”

Comedic thrusts and fragments balance the mournful flow towards loss and ultimate leave-taking. The paper follows the variations on the thematic thread of mortality as they are nuanced by Čexov through depiction of shifting moods, thoughts and emotions, incongruities of language, social dislocation, sounds (from the everyday to the ineffable), and silence. A web of intertwined detail and allusive symbolism contributes to the thematic richness of the mortality theme in The Cherry Orchard.