An aristocratic woman returns to the family's estate just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. Although presented with options to save the estate, the family does nothing and the play ends with the estate being sold to the son of a former serf. The family leaves, each to his destiny, to the sound of the beloved cherry orchard being cut down.
The story presents themes of cultural futility of the aristocracy to maintain its status and of the bourgeoisie to find meaning in its newfound materialism. The play reflects forces at work in Russia and around the globe at the turn of the 20th century.