Because The Cherry Orchard depicts a changing society, the characters spend a lot of time thinking about how now compares to then. How characters relate to the past determines their investment in the play's major question: will the cherry orchard be saved? As a symbol of the past of the Russian empire, the orchard evokes longing, regret, or disgust – sometimes a combination of all three. Despite the painful resistance of most characters, in the end, a cord to the past is snipped. The cherry orchard is sold, the house is shuttered, and the old servant is left to die.
Chekhov uses Fiers's senility as a tool of remembrance in the play.
How characters respond to the loss of the cherry orchard defines their dependence on, or freedom from, the weight of the past.