Static in Motion : Examining the Complexities and Contradictions of Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard

March 25, 2019 by Essay Writer

A notoriously psychological composer of satire and comedy, Anton Chekhov employs The Cherry Orchard as a case study of an ensemble of ludicrous characters united in their inability to transform their behaviors or identities. Each character appears suspended in his/her separate concerns, each so self-absorbed that he/she is rendered ineffectual in saving the estate and orchard; the characters appear doomed to remain forever as they are: Trofimov the student, Gaev the silenced, Firs the slave, Lyubov the gullible, etc. In contrast, Lopakhin is driven by motivations of action and change: though his father was born a peasant and his grandfather a serf before him, Lopakhin has risen above poverty and become even richer than the aristocrats who once owned his family. By this virtue, he represents the new wealth of Russia in an increasingly democratic and middle class society. However, Chekhov reveals that despite his wealth and appearance, Lopakhin remains painfully bound to his identity as a peasant, static despite his role as a major force of action throughout the play. Each aspect of his character is shaped by his peasant mentality, including his pessimism about life, desire to succeed in business, and hypocritical attitude towards transcending class positions.Chekhov wastes little time establishing Lopakhin as a character entrapped in the past. In the play’s first monologue, Lopakhin displays incredible self-awareness and self-deprecation as he recounts his transformation from a peasant boy whose father beat him into a successful business man in a three-piece suit and fancy shoes. Despite this triumph, he recalls the expression that he is “a silk purse from a sow’s ear” (Act 1, line 29); that is, he reveals the inherent contradiction of his being, that it’s impossible to make something of true quality from poor materials (i.e. an aristocrat from a peasant). To further drive home this point, Lopakhin despairs: “I read through this entire book and didn’t understand a word of it” (Act 1, lines 34-35). Despite his wealth, Lopakhin lacks the culture and education required to truly rise above his peasantry, openly dismissing the success of his present and future beyond the realm of mere aesthetics. It’s interesting that he makes little effort to hide his shame and dismay concerning his origins, an attitude which reflects upon this plain, straight-talking and summative style of speech (from which we draw a stark contrast from the obscure references in other character dialogues). Save a few quips and remarks, Lopakhin’s tangents repeatedly relate to his father or his peasant status, suggesting he is a character with a metaphoric chip on his shoulder who works hard to prove himself when even he admits the effort is futile.Lopakhin’s fatalistic attitudes towards his identity are contrasted sharply with his optimistic ambitions in the realm of business. Unlike his origins, he has power and control over wealth, seeking to depart at least aesthetically from his past through clever planning. Due to his skill, he could be seen as the would-be hero of the play; he is prepared to save the family from their debts, generously loaning them $50,000 to start up their consolidation of the orchard’s land into summer homes. He even identifies with the family and takes their plight personally–especially that of Lyubov, who showed him kindness during his days as a peasant. He cries “I love you like my own flesh and blood… more, even, than my own flesh and blood, (Act 1, lines 277-278),” later grouping himself with the family’s lot by saying “unless we come up with a plan, unless we reach a decision” (lines 328-329). The use of “we” is very interesting here, since this displays genuine concern and identification with a class whom he can identify with on a financial, but not personal, level. His dialogue is often short, quipped, sarcastic or humorous when responding to the tangential dialogue of other characters, and he constantly glances at his watch to suggest his social discomfort in matters non-related to business. He is a character motivated not so much by deep-vested personal interest in the family, but rather to see the land developed into one reflecting his vision of “wealth, prosperity, [and] happiness” (though he ignores the more social ramification of replacing the grandeur of the orchard with ordinary housing (Act 1, line 358)).“You only have to try to get something done to realize how few honest, decent people there are in this world,” he at one point laments (Act 3, lines 343-344). Here, his pessimism about life rears itself to criticize the household itself. However, it’s very interesting to note that he’s criticizing them for the very reasons he criticizes himself: lack of self transformation and movement. For the family to react to the selling of the estate would imply a change within themselves, from passive to proactive, from personal irresponsibility to responsibility. However, aristocracy is stereotypically defined as possessing such qualities; hard work and effort is left to the lower classes. Lopakhin exclaims “I can’t live without work, I don’t know what to do with my hands…they’re hanging there, as if they belonged to someone else” (Act 4, lines 37-39). In contrast, the practice of aristocracy is idle hands. Lopakhin repeatedly labels himself as ‘just a peasant’ unable to shake the habits of his past, yet he faults the aristocracy by not, in a sense, becoming peasant-like by laboring and earning their wealth. He desires them to change in a way that he has already deemed impossible, though in previous parts of the play he was quick to remind characters of their “place.” (For example, he chides the maid Dunyasha for dressing attractively and reminds Trofimov that he will always be a student.)Finally, despite his distaste for their inaction and apathy, Lopakhin takes great pains to help the family. As a reader I cheered in the scene in which he begs Lyubov to action, warning “either I’m going to burst out sobbing, or screaming, or else I’m going to fall on the ground, right here in front of you. I can’t stand it any more! You’re driving me mad!” (Act 2 lines 164-166). Indeed, he echoes the sentiment of the audience that Lopakhin has clearly formed a plan to save the orchard, that he has repeated this plan several times, and that these pleas have fallen upon deaf ears. From this, we gather that Lopakhin is a genuinely good man, a man of business savvy that could have likely easily scammed the family out of their estate if he so chose. It was only after all his methods of persuasion failed that he acquired the estate, bidding a ridiculously high $90,000 over the previous debt. That he would pay so much displays the heavy symbolic value he weighs in transcending the peasantry of his past. “Here comes the new master, the owner of the cherry orchard!” he cries in glee, comically knocking over a candlelabrum (Act 3, lines 406, 407). Though he now owns the property, this comedic moment reveals that he is a clumsy master of its aristocratic connotations.Ultimately, though Lopakhin drives the plot of the play by pushing for action and buying the estate, his identity remains unchanged by the acquisition. Like the other characters, he is merely a piece in the mosaic of suspended characters, unable to change the fundamental aspects of himself that make him forever a peasant. Even after Lopakhin’s grand standing of the achievement, he reveals that he will not even be staying at the estate, but rather going off to further business (Act 4 lines 34-35). In the end, his victory has accomplished little.

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