This symbolises the decadence and decay of old Russia and the rise of new money which threatens the values and way of life of the old (symbolised by the cherry orchard). Many of the characters are unable to change: no character arcs here.
Besides LA and Lopakhin, the other characters include:
- Varya, 24, who is the adopted daughter of LA, who has been acting as housekeeper during LA’s absence; she would like to be a nun.
- Gayev who is LA’s brother. He is addicted to billiards. At moments of stress he fantasises about the shot he is about to play. This 'dialogue tic' makes him ridiculous.
- A 'love triangle' of accident-prone estate clerk Yepikhodov who, at the start of the play, is engaged to servant Dunyasha who, in her turn, has a crush on young manservant Yasha who has been in Paris with LA and longs to dump Dunyasha and go back to Paris. Yasha is a very insolent servant who laughs at the antics of the family, especially Gayev; I suppose he represents the perceived insolence of young Russians but at the end of the play he is still a servant begging LA to take him back to paris.
- Peter Trofimov is a “perpetual student” who was originally hired as tutor to Grisha, since drowned, and since then has hung around the estate dreaming of the coming revolution; he has infected Anya, LA's daughter, with his ideas and she adores him although he claims that their relationship is "beyond love".
- Charlotta Ivanovna who is Anya’s governess. It is believed that Lopakhin fancies her but when he tries to kiss her hand she says: “If I let you kiss my hand, you’ll want the elbow next, then the shoulder…” (This, of course, is exactly what he wants in terms of increasing his mercantile empire.) Charlotta is the orphan of a circus family and entertains the family with card tricks and ventriloquism.
- Boris Simeonov-Pishchik is a neighbouring landowner who repeatedly tries to borrow money to pay the interest on his debts. It seems at the start of the play that he is yet another aristocrat doomed to bankruptcy.
- And finally there is the 87 year old manservant Firs who was born in serfdom and chunters on about the good old days. He is going deaf and the others think he is becoming senile. He is a metaphor for old Russia.
Act One starts with this stage description: “A room which is still called the ‘nursery’. One of the doors leads to Anya’s room. Dawn; it will soon be sunrise. It is May and the cherry trees are in bloom, but out in the orchard it is cold, with a morning frost. The windows of the room are shut.” Thus we have the pathetic fallacies of the trees in bloom but vulnerable to the frost. The fact the at the room is ‘still’ called the nursery symbolises the infantile behaviour of the aristocrats. The shut windows symbolise their refusal to let the reality come into their world.
- “If a great many remedies are prescribed for some disease, that means the disease is incurable.”
- “Everyone loves you, respects you… but dear Uncle, you mustn’t say things, just keep your mouth shut.”
- “The huge majority of the intelligentsia I know seek nothing, do nothing and aren’t yet capable of hard work. They call themselves intelligentsia, but they’re rude to servants, they treat peasants like animals, they are poor students, they read nothing seriously, they don’t do a thing, they just talk about science, they understand little about art. They’re all serious, they all have stern expressions, they all only talk about what is significant, they talk philosophy, but meanwhile in front of their eyes the workers eat disgusting food, sleep without pillows, thirty or forty to a room, everywhere fleas, stench, damp, immorality… And of course all our fine conversations are just to divert our own and others’ attention. Show me where we have the crèches, which are talked of so much and so often, where are the reading rooms?”
- “The ownership of living souls has formed all of you, those who lived before and those who are living now, so that your mother, you, your uncle, no longer notice that you are living in debt, at others’ expense, at the expense of those people whom you don’t let in further than your front hall…”
- “You’re boldly solving all the important questions, but tell me, my dear, isn’t that because you are young, because you haven’t had time to suffer as a result of a single one of your questions? You look ahead boldly, and isn’t that because you don’t see and don’t expect anything terrifying, as life is still hidden from your young eyes?”
- “Once you’re one of the pack, if you can’t bark then you’ve got to wag your tail.”