The Cherry Orchard
The Cherry Orchard Writing Style
"What happens onstage should be just as complicated and just as simple as things are in real life. People are sitting at a table having dinner, that's all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart," wrote Chekhov of the realistic style exemplified by The Cherry Orchard (source). Characters wander in and out, lines of communication cross, seemingly irrelevant topics are brought up only to be dropped and taken up again later. In this deceptively scattered progression of dialogues, a complete picture of a family and society emerges.
At the end of the chaotic first act, a scene of arrival, Varya reports to her sister Anya on the maintenance of the estate:
VARYA. There's been an unpleasantness here while you were away. In the old servants' part of the house, as you know, only the old people live--little old Efim and Polya and Evstigney, and Karp as well. They started letting some tramps or other spend the night there--I said nothing. Then I heard that they were saying that I had ordered them to be fed on peas and nothing else; from meanness, you see. ... And it was all Evstigney's doing. ... Very well, I thought, if that's what the matter is, just you wait. So I call Evstigney. ... [Yawns] He comes. "What's this," I say, "Evstigney, you old fool."... [Looks at ANYA] Anya dear! [Pause] … My darling's gone to sleep!" (1.220)
The monologue seems like an idle, rambling complaint, but reveals a number of things about Varya, Anya, and the situation at home. We can see that, financially, things are very bad for them. The family can't afford to feed the former serfs who live on their land. And Varya responds, in her oversensitive way, by taking offense at their accusations that she's "mean" or cheap. Anya falls asleep, either unconcerned about the starving peasants or tired by Varya's pettiness.
Then the "peas" story comes up again in Act 2, when Lubov laments her flagrancy with money:
LUBOV. My poor Varya feeds everybody on milk soup to save money, in the kitchen the old people only get peas, and I spend recklessly. [Drops the purse, scattering gold coins] There, they are all over the place. (2.29)
"So it's true," we think. Varya is feeding them on peas. Lubov, charming as she may be, hurts more than herself with her fiscal irresponsibility, represented here by the simple, naturalistic detail of "scattering gold coins." She's also responsible for the discomfort of many others.