The Cherry Orchard
by Anton Chekhov
Tools of Characterization
Readers of Chekhov sometimes complain about the Russian names. If you're not familiar with Russian names, it can be hard at first to keep up with how they change throughout the play. Here's how it works. Russians have three names:
- A first name: Lubov
- A patronymic name identifying one's father: Andreyevna (daughter of Andre)
- A last name: Ranevskaya
In a play about social change, economic backgrounds go a long way in defining character. Lubov and Gaev are members of the aristocracy and, though the glory years are over and they are destitute, they continue to act like lords of the manor. "The peasants don't love me for nothing," declares Gaev to the embarrassment of Anya and Varya (1.214).
Lopakhin, an upwardly mobile member of the middle class and son of a former serf, is always slightly apologetic about his background: "I've never learned anything, my handwriting is bad, I write so that I'm quite ashamed before people, like a pig!" (2.64). The difference in class between him and Lubov does seem to be one reason she won't listen to him, as his ideas seem vulgar to her.
And the servants are in a constant (comic) class warfare with each other, as Epikhodov seeks to impress Dunyasha with his learning, she tries to impress Yasha with her white hands, and Yasha lords his worldliness over them all: "It doesn't suit me here, I can't live here ... it's no good. Well, I've seen the uncivilized world; I have had enough of it" (4.49).
It's not unusual to find a Chekhov character saying directly what he or she thinks of himself. Whether Chekhov (and the audience) agrees depends largely on the context.
Lopakhin: "I'm rich now, with lots of money, but just think about it and examine me, and you'll find I'm still a peasant down to the marrow of my bones." (1.5)
Lopakhin knows himself pretty well and owns up to his background.
Dunyasha: "I'm so tender and so delicate now; respectable and afraid of everything." (2.18)
This is Dunyasha trying to attract Yasha by boasting of her refinement. He's a servant, but she thinks of him as a gentleman.
Lubov: Then I suppose I must be beneath love. (3.54)
Like Lopakhin, Lubov sees her faults with relative clarity, though she does nothing to improve them. She's responding to Trofimov's claim that he and Anya are above love – another direct statement that, from our perspective, doesn't seem quite accurate.