A comparison of the Theme of Illusion and Realism as portrayed in the two works, Ghosts and Cherry Orchard.
The Cherry Orchard and Ghosts both have a mutual factor, the theme of illusion and realism. Even though this is common in both the plays, the playwrights treat them differently. Both Ghosts and Cherry Orchard were written with a common motive - to reveal the flaws of society. Yet, the dissimilarity lies in the fact that they were dealing with two completely different societies. Ibsen's primary purpose was to be sarcastic about the façade people create in society. He exposed the fact that each family has its own secrets of lust and incest, which are veiled from society by a layer of artificiality. All the members of society had an ‘illusion' created about themselves. The play shows one such character, Mrs. Alving. Even though she appears to be blissfully happy in society, grief is gnawing at her very existence. This is how Ibsen uses illusion to reveal the artificiality of society. Chekov on the other hand deals with a very different aspect of society. Russian society was undergoing massive change. The dissolution of feudalism and abolition of serfdom, by the emancipation proclamation, gave rise to the burgeon class. The Aristocrats displayed perennial extravagance, even when they knew that they were in grave financial debt. This is the very aspect of society Chekov had targeted. Madame Ranevsky's family was under the false pretense that they are living in the past. They refuse to face the truth and delay the sale of the Orchard. Contrastingly, Lopakhin had become a millionaire, by strict adherence to realism. He believed his eyes, not his heart, thus through sheer hard work he became successful.
The theme of illusion and realism serves many purposes. Ibsen uses the theme of illusion as a gateway, or a stepping-stone to reveal many other themes in the play. It is a technique used by the writer to introduce many other themes to the audience. This helps to keep the audience's curiosity, since they are presented with two ideas at the same time. Firstly, the theme of illusion helps to depict the theme of duty. Mrs. Alving's love and adherence to duty is reflected from the illusion she creates in Oswald's mind. As a dutiful mother she creates a ‘happy illusion' of his father as a principled and respectable man, whereas in reality he was insincere and engaged in licentious activities. Illusion also depicts Manders's belief in duty. Manders censures Mrs. Alving for ‘forsaking' her duty as mother and feels it's his duty to inform her about this. This also portrays the obsession for duty, prevalent in Norwegian society. Wives were considered to be lower in society and it was their duty to stay loyal to their husband, no matter how disloyal the husband was. People considered duty to be of utmost priority. The theme of adultery is also portrayed through illusion. Ibsen uses literary techniques to depict the theme of illusion and reality. When Oswald and Regina are in the conservatory he refers to them as the metaphorical ‘Ghosts'. This shows the audience the utter shock Mrs. Alving at the resemblance of Oswald's romance to that of Captain Alving.
Chekov's use of Illusion and Realism is somewhat similar to that of Ibsen. He also makes use of Illusion to depict many other themes in the play. The theme of invocation of the past is one major theme depicted using illusion. Madame Ranvsky, even in her grave financial position, continues to spend lavishly. This is evident when Anya says,” We only just managed to get home. And mamma won't understand! We get out at a station to have some dinner, and she asks for all the most expensive things and gives the waiters a florin each for a tip; and Charlotte does the same.” Chekov also depicts the Theme of Rise of the Peasants through realism. Lophakhin's ‘practicality over sentimentality' approach has helped him to become a millionaire and rise to the middle class. This was a very prevalent happening in Russian society at that time. Russian society was undergoing massive social change. After the freedom of Surfs, they excelled in society trough their practical approach. The aristocracy was flippant about its expenses and due to the end of feudalism they were in a grave financial crisis. Chekov's use of Illusion however serves another purpose of laughter. Ibsen does not provide any comic relief trough his illusions, but uses them seriously. Gayef's incessant consumption of candy and illusory game of billiards does create laughter in the audience. As far as literary and dramatic techniques are concerned, Chekov makes extensive use of exaggeration and stage direction to illustrate illusion. The play opens up with the stage direction ‘A room which is still called the nursery'. This dramatic technique conveys to the audience the illusion that the Ranevsky family is living under. They feel they are in the past where they are still prosperous and wealthy but it turns out the other way round.
Ibsen also uses illusion and realism to bring about characterization. Mrs. Alving's courage is portrayed through illusion. She overcomes her cowardice and finally sabotages Oswald's ‘happy illusion' by telling him the truth about his father. Mr. Manders character is also depicted by illusion. His superficiality and gullibility has been shown by illusion. He trusts Engstrand too quickly based on the illusion created by him in the pastor's mind. This is evident when he says, “My dear lady, don't judge so hastily. It is very sad how you misjudge poor Engstrand”. He believes that Engstrand cares the most about Regina however we have seen that it is on the contrary, this illusion shows the pastor's gullibility. The Theme of Illusion also tells us that Mr. Manders is a puppet of society. He reprimanded Mrs. Alving for being an unfaithful wife for leaving her husband unaware of Captain Alving's doings, however he feel it appropriate that Mrs. Alving lied to her own son about Capt. Alving's doings. This proves that he is indeed a puppet of society since society would have considered it inappropriate that Oswald know the truth about his father. This also gives us information of the mindset people had in Norwegian society. Pastor Manders reflects an ordinary individual of society, essentially because he was society's puppet. People used to consider society's reaction before making any decisions. Manders decided against insuring the Orphanage because society would have considered it inappropriate.
The theme of illusion is also used to bring about characterization in the Cherry Orchard. Barbara and Lopakhin are symbols of ‘realism'. They have a very realistic approach to Madame Ranevsky's situation. Barbara screams and runs away on seeing the tramp. This shows her practicality since she acknowledges that if Madame Ranevsky does not try to improve her financial situation they may end up like the tramp. Lopakhin was a peasant who rose to the middle class by sheer hard work. This is evident when he tells Madame Ranevsky,” You must make up your minds once and for all. Time waits for no man.” Lopakhin epitomizes realism trough these words. Illusion also brings about Madame Ranevsky's character, the protagonist of the play. She is under the false pretense that she is living in the past; this causes her to be flippant towards her expenses. This is shown when she says, “(Crying) I am a little girl still”. It is this very mentality that contributes to her extravagant lifestyle. This also gives us a cultural aspect of Russia. The aristocrats failed to acknowledge their financial needs. They went on spending lavishly, even though they had virtually no money at all. This is the aspect of society Chekov has targeted in the play.
In conclusion, the theme of illusion and reality has contributes majorly to the main plot of both the works. The treatment of the theme of illusion and reality in both the plays has fascinated me.
- Chekov, Anton Pavlovich. The Cherry Orchard. New York: Dover publications, 1991. p5
- Chekov, Anton Pavlovich. The Cherry Orchard. New York: Dover publications, 1991. p1
- Ibsen, Henrik. Ghosts. New York: Dover Publications, 1997. p14
- Chekov, Anton Pavlovich. The Cherry Orchard. New York: Dover publications, 1991. p19
- Chekov, Anton Pavlovich. The Cherry Orchard. New York: Dover publications, 1991. p3