Friday, 1 July 2011

Identity, Property and the Cherry Orchard

In Checkov's Cherry Orchard, when Lubov, the eccentric aristocratic woman who has spent all her money returns to the ancestral home from Paris, she declares her excitement:
"I can't sit still, I'm not in a state to do it. [Jumps up and walks about in great excitement] I'll never survive this happiness.... You can laugh at me; I'm a silly woman.... My dear little cupboard. [Kisses cupboard] My little table."
Towards the end of the play, as she struggles desperately to hang on to her home, she explains:
"I was born here, my father and mother lived here, my grandfather too, I love this house. I couldn't understand my life without that cherry orchard, and if it really must be sold, sell me with it! My son was drowned here...."
The play charts a slow decay of her identity as her possessions gradually disappear, culminating with the sale of the Cherry Orchard.

What fascinates me about this is the extent to which the identities of the characters in the play are defined around the objects that surround them. As the objects change, so they change.. which leaves me wondering about their identity and individuality in isolation from those objects: indeed, this seems to be a major theme of the play.

The only character who seems not to be affected by objects is Trofimov. He is a revolutionary who espouses egolessness and redistribution of property. Yet he is affected by a different sort of 'property relation': his identity is not defined by the objects he relates to (although his 'negative' relation to objects is certainly part of his identity), but by his ownership of 'ideas'. In this way, Trofimov appears as a very similar sort of character to the capitalist Lophakin, whose identity is also not so much to property, but to a different set of ideas: the ideas of money and profit. As idealists, Trofimov and Lophakin are remarkably similar yet at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

But the characters develop as the objects of property develop. Trofimov attracts Lubov's daughter, who falls under his spell, and increasingly she serves to amplify his idealism. Lophakin, in buying the Cherry Orchard stands in a different property relation to the people who he once served, by buying them out. And Lubov is gradually hollowed-out.

The psychology is in those property relations, and the story is told by manipulating them. That would be worth modelling at a deeper level. What are the sensual relations to the house and orchard? (disruptions?) What are the sensual relations that Trofimov has to ideas? (exhortations?) What are the sensual relations that Lophakin has to money? (coercions - particularly at the end of the play). Lophakin's exhortations to develop the site have no effect on Lubov. Lubov meanwhile is forever fanciful and distracted - only the coercion of losing the property in the end has any real effect on her. And the only thing that really gets to Trofimov is when Lubov teases him about his virginity! (a disruption).

I think there may be grounds here for a deeper exploration about the creation of identity through property relations...

1 comment:

arnold said...

Change things, until they change .. Which makes me wonder about the identity and personality separate from these objects: in fact, seems to be one of the main themes of the play.

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