The Cherry Orchard transposed to contemporary South Africa : space and identity in cultural contexts
Krüger, Johanna Alida
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The transposition of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (originally published in Russian in 1904) to contemporary South Africa in Suzman's The Free State (2000) is based on the corresponding social changes within the two contexts. These social changes cause a binary opposition of past and present in the two texts. Within this context memory functions as a space in which the characters recall the past to the present and engenders a dialogue between past and present. Memory is illustrated in the two plays by associations with place as an important aspect of identity formation. Memory and place are fused in the plays by means of Bakhtin's concept of the chronotope which is best observed in the plays in memories of specific places such as the respective orchards, houses and rooms such as the nursery and the ballroom in. The Cherry Orchard and the garden in The Free State. Furthermore, the influence of the past is also evident in the present when ideas of social status, class, race (in the case of The Free State) and behaviour are contrasted and when various characters express their perceptions of personal relationships and ideas about marriage. The influence of the past is also evident when the characters voice their different perceptions and expectations of the past and future. In The Cherry Orchard these cultural differences are evident in the concept of heteroglossia. However, in The Free State, these dialogues are directed by a specific politically liberal view which diminishes the heteroglossia in the text. The juxtaposing of past and present is also illustrated in The Cherry Orchard by various subversive strategies such as comedy of the absurd in order to portray the behaviour of the characters as incongruous. Another subversive strategy is the contrasting of characters and ideas in order to expose pretensions and affectations in speech and actions to parody both the old establishment and the ambitions of former peasants. These conventions are best illustrated by the concept of the carnivalesque that also features as one of Bakhtin's terms to capture incongruous ideas and situations in literature. In The Free State, comedy is unfortunately much diminished and in contrast to Chekhov's ambiguity, only directed against politically conservative characters. The prevalence of these three Bakhtinian concepts in the texts shows how identity formation is to a large extent influenced and defined by occupied space. When social change affects the distribution of land, a character's concept of identity is destabilised. Although Suzman uses this similarity in the two contexts in order to transpose Chekhov's text to contemporary South Africa, she organises the various stances in the text to advocate a specific politically liberal view. Thus, Suzman's transposition leads to an interesting comparison between the Russian and South African contexts as well as between the two texts. However, her text is limited by her political interpretation of Chekhov's text.
- Humanities