The Cherry Orchard
by Anton Chekhov
Lopakhin the Peasant
Lopakhin is the son of a former serf (essentially a slave) who worked on Lubov's estate. He was a drunk and ignorant man who beat Lopakhin. Like his father, Lopakhin isn't an educated man, and admits as much: "Here I've been reading this book, but I understood nothing. I read and fell asleep" (1.5). Both Lubov and Gaev make references to Lopakhin's lack of refinement, and it's one of the reasons they don't listen to him. In their opinion, as a former peasant, Lopakhin surely can't appreciate the value of the orchard's beauty – he wants to cut it down, for goodness' sake.
LUBOV. Cut it down? My dear man, you must excuse me, but you don't understand anything at all. If there's anything interesting or remarkable in the whole province, it's this cherry orchard of ours. (1.111)
And it's true, Lopakhin can be tactless and oblivious. At the end of the play he shows extreme insensitivity in cutting down the cherry trees before Lubov has even left. But Chekhov didn't write a caveman. Lopakhin has the hands of an artist, remarks Trofimov, and he recognizes beauty. He just can't afford to place beauty over everything else. He tells Trofimov:
LOPAKHIN. In the spring I sowed three thousand acres of poppies, and now I've made forty thousand roubles net profit. And when my poppies were in flower, what a picture it was! So I, as I was saying, made forty thousand roubles, and I mean I'd like to lend you some, because I can afford it. Why turn up your nose at it? I'm just a simple peasant. ...(4.28)
In the middle of a conversation about money, Lopakhin has a moment of reverie in the beauty of the poppies. Then it's back to business.
The Big Monologue
In a play that's sparing with show-stopping moments, Lopakhin's Big Monologue stands out. He returns from the auction, a little drunk, and announces that he's bought the orchard. The music screeches to a stop. What begins as a careful retelling of the auction's progress morphs into a cathartic confession of Lopakhin's deepest motives. Lubov's pain is far from his mind as he exults:
The cherry orchard is mine now, mine! [Roars with laughter] My God, my God, the cherry orchard's mine! Tell me I'm drunk, or mad, or dreaming. ... [Stamps his feet] Don't laugh at me! If my father and grandfather rose from their graves and looked at the whole affair, and saw how their Ermolai, their beaten and uneducated Ermolai, who used to run barefoot in the winter, how that very Ermolai has bought an estate, which is the most beautiful thing in the world! I've bought the estate where my grandfather and my father were slaves, where they weren't even allowed into the kitchen. (3.151)
The speech is a fascinating dramatic moment. Lopakhin's joy and release is so big and ugly we want to look away even as we applaud the justice of his act. We feel bad for Lubov – but doesn't she kind of deserve to hear it? In its contradictions and divided allegiances, this moment is pure Chekhov.
Why Doesn't He Marry Varya!?
It's a topic of conversation from Act 1 straight through Act 4. Varya wants to marry Lopakhin, though her motives may be questionable. And Lopakhin never seems exactly against the idea. So why, when Lubov gives him a final prod, does he sit with Varya in silence, talk about the weather, then scram gratefully when someone calls his name? We've turned this one over in our minds a lot, and considered the following explanations:
- He just doesn't want to get married at all.
- He's actually in love with Lubov.
- He wants to focus on his business. (Varya consoles herself with this one.)
- To truly escape his peasant past, he must break all ties with it. He cuts down the orchard where his father was a serf; he tears down the house. How could he possibly marry into the family that enslaved his?
- All of the above.