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The Theme Of Illusion And Realism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1640 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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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 very differently. Both Ghosts and The 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 dissimilar 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 dark secrets, 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, she laments that she was too cowardly to tell her own son about Capt. Alving’s dishonesty. Ibsen uses her character 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 abolition of feudalism and serfdom, by the emancipation proclamation, gave rise to the bourgeois 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 has 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 his adherence to realism. He believed his eyes, not his heart, thus through sheer hard work he became successful.

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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 other themes in the play to the audience. This helps to keep the audience’s curiosity, since they are presented with two different 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” [1] of his father as a principled and respectable man, whereas in reality Capt. Alving 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 culture at that time. 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 in Norwegian society 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 she refers to them as the metaphorical ‘Ghosts’ [2] . 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 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.” [3] 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 is evident when he says, ” My father, it is true, was a peasant, and here I am in a white waist coat and brown boots” [4] This was very pertinent to Russian society of that time. Russian society was undergoing massive social change. After surfs were freed, many of them excelled in society trough their practical approach and hard work. However, many people of the aristocracy remained flippant towards their expenses even though the end of feudalism has put them in heavy financial debt. Chekov’s use of Illusion however serves another purpose of laughter. Ibsen does not provide any comic relief through his use of illusions, rather he uses them seriously. Gayef’s incessant intake of candy and unreal 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 create illusion. The play opens up with the stage direction ‘A room which is still called the nursery’ [5] . 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 false belief by telling him the truth about his father. Pastor Manders’s 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” [6] . 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 Pastor Manders is a puppet of society. He reprimands Mrs. Alving for being an unfaithful wife for leaving her husband unaware of Captain Alving’s doings; however he feels 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 is society’s puppet. People in Norwegian society would consider society’s reaction before making any decisions. Manders decided against insuring the Orphanage because society would have considered it inappropriate, even though it was the most pragmatic course of action.

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.” [7] Lopakhin epitomizes realism through 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” [8] . 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.

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In conclusion, the theme of illusion and reality contributes majorly to the main plot of both the works. Although both the playwrights have a common purpose to use illusion and realism, the dissimilarity in the use of the themes in the respective plays manifest a vast difference in the audience reaction to the themes. Ibsen does not provide any comic relief by through the theme of illusion and realism; rather he creates a tense atmosphere in the audience through these themes. Chekov, on the contrary, does provide comic relief with his use of illusion and realism, thus decreasing the tension in the audience and providing a lighter mood to the play.


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