Wednesday, July 8, 2015
In the Cherry Orchard
Walking through the local fruit farm recently, I was diverted away from one of my usual routes through the cherry orchard because the groves of trees had been netted-off to keep the birds away from the ripened fruit. Inside the green mesh, I could make out just enough of the spectral forms of the fruit pickers to bid them, “dzien dobry!” It struck me that a place that I enjoy walking through in the spring as the delicate pale pink cherry blossom blooms, and eating the fruits of in the summer, represents something entirely different for these hard-working migrants.
Depending on your point of view, cherry trees are seen as symbols of either a regretful change or a positive awakening and rebirth. In Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard, the titular trees perhaps represent both: to the orchard’s owner, Madame Ranevsky, they represent memories of her idyllic childhood before she had the responsibility of managing a large estate; the radical student, Trofimov, sees in the trees the harsh and brutal lives of the workers who pick the fruit; for the rich merchant Lopakhin, the massive orchard stands for the unwieldy wealth and stagnation of the aristocracy. And it is the low-born Lopakhin who buys the estate and has the orchard cut down at the end of the play, symbolising a break with the cruelty of his peasant upbringing and the ushering in of the Bolshevik era.
Back on the fruit farm, the cherry orchard offers much-needed work for those at the lower end of the economic scale; but the trees also represent a tiring and repetitive working environment, long hours, basic and crowded living conditions and low wages. Much as I love it, it’s time to fell the orchard.