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Chekhov’s Orchard

By Candace M. Joice, STS Visiting Artist

When Anton Chekhov titled his final play, which he wrote over a period of several years, it was a very personal selection. He talked about the play to almost no one as he was writing it, not even to his wife. In fact, he only revealed its name to her to comfort her following her miscarriage, and she later recorded that when he finally did tell her, he said its title in a whisper.

Chekhov was a deep admirer of all things green. He had a special fondness for trees that was fostered in his youth and sustained throughout his adulthood. Russia’s movement towards massive deforestation in the age of industry was something that broke his heart; his play Uncle Vanya reflects this concern particularly. At one point in his later years, he bought a country estate in Russia and planted his own small cherry orchard. When he had to sell the estate to move to a warmer climate due to his poor health, he was later devastated to learn that the new owner had cut down most of the cherry trees.

Cherry blossoms are a lovely sight to behold. When you see several cherry trees clustered together, the effect is quite dazzling. But if you don’t pay attention, you can miss the blooms entirely; their blossoms usually last for no more than two weeks.

The trees are particularly popular in Asia, where they have taken on special significance. In Japan, they are upheld as a metaphor for life: a brief bloom followed by the inevitable fall. In China, cherry blossoms represent things of promise: education, hope, youth, virility, and feminine beauty. Wherever they are located, they represent death and rebirth and new awakenings.

How touching to note, then, that Chekhov completed this play in 1903, less than a year before his own death. The final story he offered to audiences is one of life and death, the closing of some doors and the opening of others. It is not, however, a tragic tale. Quite the opposite, actually, for Chekhov resolutely insisted that The Cherry Orchard is a comedy.

It is helpful to think of the characters of the play as trees in the orchard. When doors close, others open to them. They move forward, and will bloom again after the winter. They endure seasons of winter, only to be revived in glorious beauty once again in the spring:

Lubov: We go away, and not a soul remains behind.

Lopakhin: Till the spring.

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