The Cherry Orchard Summary

Anton Chekov

The Cherry Orchard

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Cherry Orchard Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov.

Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard debuted in January of 1904. Because it was originally written and performed in Russian, the names of some characters have acquired multiple spellings in different English-language editions.

The play begins on an estate in the country before dawn on a cool day in May. Despite the chill, the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Family friend Yermolay Lopakhin and the maid, Dunyasha, await the return of the estate’s owner, Lyuba Ranevsky, from her five-year absence in Paris. She has been living there with a lover after the death of her young son, Grisha, by drowning.

Lopakhin is a businessman from the area who feels both appreciative of Lyuba’s past kindnesses and resentful of her frequent reminders of his humble upbringing. Also on the property is Simon Yephikodov, the estate’s clerk, who has the nickname “Simple Simon” because of his amusing accidents.

Lyuba arrives with her entourage in tow: her teenaged daughter Anya; Anya’s governess, Charlotte; the elderly manservant Firs; Lyuba’s immature older brother Leonid Gayev; her adopted daughter, Varya; and Charlotte’s dog.

Lyuba is happy to be home in Russia, and on her family’s estate. Anya tells Varya that Lyuba was nearly penniless, despite maintaining lavish spending. Yermolay is there to remind everyone that her debts have become overwhelming, and that as a result, the estate is scheduled to be auctioned off to pay all the bills.

Talking with Lyuba, Yermolay proposes a different solution for her money troubles. Lyuba should divide the property, build cottages, and rent them to summering vacationers. He explains that vacationers have become more numerous in recent years, and that the profits would allow Lyuba to retain ownership of the land while still paying off her debts. Leonid and Lyuba reject the idea, because it would require chopping down the estate’s beautiful and beloved cherry orchard.

Before he leaves for home, Yermolay offers the siblings a 50,000 ruble loan for the purchase of the estate at the auction if they change their minds, lamenting that there may not be any other way to save the estate.

Peter Trofimov arrives on the scene. He was Grisha’s tutor. Peter’s appearance brings back painful memories for Lyuba.

Just before the end of the play’s first Act, Leonid offers Lyuba three alternatives for saving the estate: First, a loan scheme with a banker friend of his. Second, borrowing Yermolay’s money on the condition that the orchard is not cut down. And third, borrowing money from a wealthy aunt of theirs in Yaroslavl.

The play’s second act begins with the estate’s servants, Yasha and Yephikodov, vying for the affection of a third servant, Dunyasha. The others characters soon arrive, continuing the debate over Yermolay’s plan. Lyuba still hates the idea, and says that if the property is sold, she should just be sold along with it. During the conversation, Lyuba reveals that her lover in Paris has been sending her telegrams asking her to return, and that he’d previously robbed her, left her, and drove her to a suicide attempt.

Peter returns and expounds upon the laziness of Russian intellectuals and the importance of work, to everyone’s great entertainment. As the conversation ends, they all hear the sound of a string snapping, but cannot identify its source. A drunken homeless man appears, and after he begs for money, Lyuba gives him all she’s got, despite Varya’s protestations. Unnerved by the encounter, everyone except Peter and Anya leave. Varya believes the two of them are having an affair, which they are not, and Peter famously declares that the two of them are “above love.” The act ends with Yephikodov playing a sad song on his guitar and Varya calling out for Anya, to no response.

As the third act begins, Lyuba is throwing a party for the auction. Charlotte performs a series of magic tricks for the group of guests, which includes several local politicians and officials. Lyuba worries that the orchard will be lost, and worries about why Gayev and Yermolay have not returned from the auction. Lyuba worries that their wealthy aunt would not help, and that Gayev’s other schemes may have fallen through. She agues with Peter. Peter says Lyuba isn’t facing the truth about her financial situation, and Lyuba criticizes Peter for never having fallen in love.

Gayev and Yermolay return from the auction, and Yermolay announces that he has purchased the estate. He still plans to chop down the orchard. Lyuba is distraught, and Anya tries unsuccessfully to comfort her mother.

When the fourth and final act begins, it’s now October. The orchard is in the process of being chopped down. The characters are all preparing to leave, heading their separate ways. Firs, however, has become very ill, and Anya worries that he will not be taken to the hospital where he belongs. Yasha assures her that he has been taken.

Lyuba and Gayev say goodbye to their house, and as everyone leaves, they lock the door.

But Firs, in fact, has been forgotten. He grumbles about how life has passed him by as he wanders about. As he quietly dies on a sofa, he hears two final things: a string snapping, and an ax cutting down a tree in the orchard.

Most people read The Cherry Orchard as a commentary on the affairs of Russia as it went through great political change in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Lyuba represents the Old Russia, resistant to change in the new climate. Peter’s speeches, on the other hand, overtly discuss the shifting landscape of Russia, and especially recommend the new philosophies of Marxism and Darwinism.

The sound of the breaking string, which occurs twice in the play, also points to the theme of change. The loss of the estate, and the destruction of the orchard, are a result of a break from the old ideologies, especially those of the nobility, who are fading into obscurity.

The Cherry Orchard was among Chekov’s last works, written while he was secluded on Yalta as a result of his tuberculosis. The play received mixed reviews upon its debut, with some critics finding it bland—or even bad—and others admiring it for its political stance. Chekov died a few short days after the play’s first publication in 1904.