Tragicomedy in “The Cherry Orchard”
The Cherry Orchard stands out clearly as a tragicomedy, as it contains some elements of humor mixed with tragedy. It leaves the audience laughing and crying at the same time. This essay seeks to explore the play The Cherry Orchard and provide concrete evidence supporting the play’s genre as a tragicomedy. The play shows the Russian community in the early 20th century and runs through the month of winter that is from May to October. Chekhov develops and clearly brings out the aspect of tragicomedy.
Chekhov drew inspiration for writing The Cherry Orchard during his stay at Stanislavsky’s Lyubimovka estate, which had a cherry orchard. Chekhov had personally planted his cherry orchard, which he cherished so much, at the place called Melikhovo. However, he learned that the buyer to whom he had sold the estate had cut the trees down. The tragedy further develops when Chekhov observes his friends’ estates declining. The Kiselyovs’ family estate declines, draining Chekhov’s emotions and leaving him hopeless, with no vigor to face the future.
Speaking about The Cherry Orchard, the life of Firs also adds to the tragedy in the play making it a perfect tragicomedy. It is tragic to Firs who is aged to be accidentally left alone in a sold house. The hopelessness of such an aged person brings out the tragic aspect of the comedy. It triggers the feeling of sympathy amongst the audience (Chekhov and Upton 195).The tragicomedy depicts a situation that emphasizes the feeling of hopelessness of the aged person left in the estate.
One of the main characters is Lyubov Ranevskaya, the estate owner who is said to have returned from Paris where she went to forget the tragic drowning of her five-year son. She also wanted to forget the death of her husband. The major tragedy for the Ranevskaya family occurs when she is forced to sell the family house and the cherry orchard to pay off family debts. A tragicomedy evokes emotions of sympathy accompanied by some elements of fear, eventually leading to the release of tension, commonly referred to as catharsis (Chekhov and Upton 145).
The mention of death by drowning introduces the element of tragedy, changing the audience’s mood from laughter to tears. Ranevskaya further announces that she is going to sell the estate much to the shock of the residents. We are also told that in Paris Lyubov fell in love with a man who swindled her and left her for another woman. It stands as a tragedy on top of another tragedy (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 60). The life of Lyubov depicts a pure tragedy but in a comedic version. Her husband dies because of alcoholism; she meets another man and nurses him for three years until he recovers and leaves the old woman in debts that forces her to sell her estate. The very man dumps her for another woman leaving poor Lyubov contemplating suicide. The main female character experiences one tragedy after another. Suicidal thoughts also depict misery, hopelessness, and tragedy. She experiences illusions whereby she sees her dead mother dressed in while walking around the cherry orchard. It becomes very difficult for her to accept the fact that she no longer owns the orchard. Moreover, it holds all her childhood memories that she treasures so much and she even states that she can pay anything to have it back (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 99).
It qualifies as tragic comedy that can be illustrated by analyzing Lopakhin’s unhappy childhood memories. He recalls that when he was aged fifteen his father used to hit him on the face causing him a serious nosebleed. He further narrates a story about his father who was a drunkard and never taught him anything in his childhood years. He blames his late father for his negligence as a parent. He believes that all his misery and miserable life could have been avoided if only his father had been a bit more responsible (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 79).
The element of tragedy comes not only from the mistreatment as a child but also from the revelation that the same father who had abused him in his childhood years is now dead. Death marks the end of everything meaning it is finality in its own. Where death is mentioned, there is no hope as it marks the end of everything. In the play death has been used to indicate the ultimate tragedy (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 35). Even though Lopakhin’s confessions are great comic relief to the audience it arouses historical tragedies that befell him in his childhood creating a somber mood.
as the play is a tragic comedy because it portrays characters that appear to be funny outside but internally they experience tragedy. The tragic experience forces them to seek relief through the amusement (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 51). For instance, Ranevskaya complains about the party organized by the residents before the estate was sold, but at the same time, she enjoys it.
However, Ranevskaya’s farewell affirms the claims that it is a tragic comedy. Ranevskaya says farewell to the cherry orchard that depicts the depth of the tragedy in the entire play. She bids farewell not only to her childhood memories but also to her youth and her life. To her, the sale of the cherry orchard is an equivalent to the sale of her happiness (Emeljanow 54). She feels as though she is parting from her happiness in life, and she is sure she will never recover it.
All comedies conventionally have a happy ending with the characters having successfully solved the conflicts arising from their interaction in the play. Some comedies achieve this happy outcome through characters reaching their goals and targets in life that they have been chasing throughout the play (Chekhov and West 78). This scenario is not followed here in that The Cherry Orchard does not match the script of a happy ever after.
At the end of the play, we see Firs abandoned by his household. He is left to die he is hopeless. This in itself stands out as a tragedy, especially for an old person who is treated like that. The author ironically uses his characters to bring out comedy through their misery. The characters such as Lyubov fail to learn from their previous experience and keep repeating the same mistakes (Chekhov and Stoppard 123). The characters laugh at their mistakes in that they blame themselves for their current predicaments.
Chekhov tries to balance laughter and cries in his play by introducing them in an alternating sequence, but the cries stand out more profound in the entire play. The cries come out more strongly and linger in the mind longer than the laughter. He uses laughter to lighten the miseries that afflict his characters in the play. The tragedies that Chekhov introduces in the lives of his characters portray the picture of the real world. There is a similarity between the tragedies that the characters in the play experience and the real happenings in the true world. The similarities make the play more of a tragic play than a comedy (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 111). Lyubov, who is the main female character, experiences tragedies after tragedies but at the end of the day affords a smile.
The critical analysis of her role in the entire play confirms that she acts as the tragic character and one may even think she is an exaggerated character. Her way of handling the tragedies of her life displays her vulnerability. Chekhov portrays her as a gullible character controlled by emotions and unwise generosity that makes her a victim of other characters in the play (Morgan, Morgan, and Bourne-Taylor 223).
It suffices to conclude that the play is a tragic comedy by all standards, as most of the scenes border on tragedy more than on humor. Humor is only used to give comic relief as well as to mark the transition from one tragedy to another. It is clear that when tragedies follow each other it may have monotonous effects on the audience and may limit the realism in the play. Plays ought to be a true reflection of life in the real world, and the closer they resemble that life, the more effective the play stands. The play has also mentioned deaths on several occasions, affirming that it stands out as a tragic comedy. Death stands as the ultimate tragedy as it marks the end of everything and deems hopes. Life offers hope whereas death erodes all hope. The play also mentions suicide, a precursor to death, portraying tragedy in different dimensions.