Three Sisters

The Three Sisters Summary Act I Act I takes place on May 5th of an unspecified year, in an unspecified provincial town in Russia. It is the twentieth birthday of Irina, the youngest of the sisters mentioned in the play’s title. It is also the one year anniversary of the death of their father, Colonel Prozorov, who moved his family there from Moscow eleven years earlier. Irina and her older sisters, Olga and Masha, receive visitors, members of the military battery that is assigned to the town.
The sisters discuss how bored they are with the town, how they long to move back to Moscow, and their brother Andrei, who will probably become a university professor. Olga, who is twenty-eight and the oldest sister, expresses interest in the new lieutenant colonel who has been assigned to the town, Vershinin, but is told that he is married, with two children. Chebutykin, the drunken old doctor who had been in love with the girls mother, gives Irina a silver samovar for her birthday, which is considered an inappropriate gift.
Vershinin arrives, explaining that he knew the sisters’ father back in Moscow, and that he remembers them from when they were girls. When he talks philosophically about how time makes all their lives insignificant, Solyony, a rough staff captain, mocks him by spouting gibberish. The sisters explain that they have been teasing their brother Andrei for being in love with a local girl, Natasha, who is married to the chairman of the county board, Protopopov. Masha’s husband, Kulygin, arrives to take Masha to a school function, but she angrily refuses to go.

Tuzenbach, an army lieutenant, expresses his love for Natasha, but she expresses her disinterest in him. When Natasha enters, Olga feels sorry for her poor fashion sense and suggests that her belt does not match the rest of her clothes. When everyone else leaves for the dining room for the celebration, Andrei tells Natasha of his love for her and asks her to marry him. Act II Almost a year later, in mid-February, Andrei and Natasha are married and living in the family house.
The sisters have invited their friends and some performers from the carnival that is in town over to the house, but Natasha tells Andrei that she objects to letting them in because she is worried about the health of their baby, Bobik. Ferapont, an old servant, enters with paperwork for Andrei, who is the secretary of the county board. When they leave the room, Masha and Vershinin enter and discuss their love for each other. Irina and Tuzenbach enter; he still is in love with her, and she is still uninterested. They discuss the great gambling losses that Andrei has incurred.
Vershinin is called away by a letter from his daughter, saying that his wife has attempted suicide once again. Solyony arrives, is rude to Natasha, and is threatening to Tuzenbach, the reason for which becomes clear later in the scene, when he expresses his love for Irina and vows to kill any rivals. Natasha has the carnival performers sent away when they show up at the door, and, while Irina is upset about Solyony’s threatening words, asks her to move out of her bedroom and into Olga’s so that the baby can have her room.
She goes to the door when she hears a sleigh bell and comes back acting surprised that it is Protopopov, come to take her for a ride, explaining that she feels that she has to accept. Kulygin and Vershinin enter the scene again the former’s meeting is over and the latter’s wife is all right to find that everyone has gone. The scene ends with Olga complaining of her terrible headaches and Irina repeating her wish to return to Moscow. Act III Act III takes place nearly four years after the opening of the play; Irina, who was twenty then, tells Olga that she is “almost twenty-four” while explaining how washed up she feels.
This act takes place in the bedroom Olga and Irina share, while a fire is spreading across the neighborhood outside. Olga is choosing clothes from her closet to give to the fire victims, who have lost all of their belongings. She has invited people who have been made homeless by the fire, particularly Vershinin and his family, to spend the night there, but when she enters Natasha objects, saying that she doesn’t want her son and new daughter to be exposed to the flu. Natasha discussing firing Anfisa, the old nurse who, as Olga explains, has been with the family for thirty years.
Kulygin enters, again unable to find Masha, and brings the news that the doctor, Chebutykin, is drunk. When he enters, feeling guilty about a patient that has died, Chebutykin picks up a clock that once belonged to the girls’ mother and breaks it: in his embarrassment, while everyone is staring at him disapprovingly, he blurts out that Natasha and Protopopov are having an affair. When Masha arrives, she and Vershinin communicate to each other in code, with musical notes. Kulygin tells Masha how much he loves her, how important she is to him, but she asks him to leave her alone to rest for a short while.
When everyone is gone, the sisters talk about how difficult their lives are and about how difficult Natasha has made Andrei’s life. Olga’s advice to Irina, who hates her job, is to marry Tuzenbach, whether she loves him or not. After Natasha passes through the room with a candle, Masha confesses to her sisters that she is in love with Vershinin. Andrei enters and tells them that he has mortgaged the house to pay his gambling debts and given control of his money to Natasha. Irina announces that she will marry Tuzenbach. Act IV
About a year after the previous act, in the garden outside of the house. The soldiers have been assigned to a new post and are stopping by throughout this scene to say goodbye. There is gossip about a fight that took place the previous day outside of the theater, during which Solyony challenged Tuzenbach to a duel. Olga is living at the school where she teaches, and Irina is planning on leaving with Tuzenbach later that day for Moscow. Chebutykin leaves to be a witness to the duel, and Andrei enters, pestered by his assistant to sign more and more paperwork for the county board.
As Masha cries over being left by Vershinin, her husband, Kulygin, tries to comfort her, not admitting that he knows what she is upset about. Natasha already has plans for the rooms of the house being vacated: she is moving Andrei down to Irina’s room, ever further from her own, so that her baby Irina can have his room. Word comes that Tuzenbach has been killed in the duel, and at the play’s end Irina, Olga, and Masha think about the future, hoping that they may one day understand the meaning of it all. The Three Sisters Introduction
Chekhov referred to The Three Sisters as a “drama,” preferring to avoid the more confining labels of either “comedy” or “tragedy,” although later critics have argued for both of those labels. It is one of the four major plays that he wrote at the end of his life. Chekhov was an accomplished fiction writer, one of the one of the most influential short story writers of all time. At the time that his plays were being produced there was some criticism that his dramas too closely resembled the style of fiction.
Traditionalists found the action too cramped and the characters too inexpressive, noting that there were too many people on the stage at any one time, doing nothing, for audiences to be able to register the significance of it all. Contrary to expectations, though, Chekhov’s plays were very popular in Moscow, where they were staged by the famous Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Constantin Stanislavsky. The Three Sisters was the first play that Chekhov wrote specifically for the Moscow Art Theatre, having experienced commercial success in his previous collaborations with the company, The Seagull and Uncle Vanya.
Like many of Chekhov’s works, it is about the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world. In the play, Olga, Masha, and Irina are refined and cultured young women in their twenties who were raised in urban Moscow but have been living in a small, colorless provincial town for eleven years. With their father dead, their anticipated return to Moscow comes to represent their hopes for living a good life, while the ordinariness of day-to-day living tightens its hold. First performed in 1901, The Three Sisters is a perennial favorite of actors and audiences.
The Three Sisters Author Biography Although Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was trained as a physician and practiced as one, he came to dominate not just one field of literature, but two: plays and short stories. He was born in 1860 in Taganrog, a provincial town in the Ukraine area of Russia that was similar to the one described in The Three Sisters. His family had a small grocery business that went bankrupt, forcing them to move to Moscow in 1876, although Chekhov stayed behind in Taganrog to finish his education. With a scholarship to Moscow University, he studied to be a doctor of medicine, going into practice in 1884.
At that time he started publishing short humorous sketches in the Moscow newspapers, though he had no serious artistic aspirations. His writing career became earnest when he moved to St. Petersburg in 1885 and befriended the editor of a literary journal, who recognized his talent and encouraged him. He did write plays, and some of these were produced, but his most memorable work from that period were his short stories, and by late 1880s, he was one of the world’s great masters of short story writing. It was in the late 1890s, when Chekhov became associated with the Moscow Art Theatre, that he reached full maturity as a playwright.
The theater, under director Constantin Stanislavsky (whose theories about acting method are standard texts for theater students today), producedThe Seagull in 1896, followed by Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters(1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904). Chekhov was very involved in the Moscow Art Theatre’s productions of his plays, offering suggestions for the actors and constantly rewriting passages. He courted an actress from the company, Olga Knipper, who played Masha in the original production of The Three Sisters (he wrote the part with her in mind); they were married in 1901, just four months after the play opened.
During much of their marriage, they were apart, because Chekhov, suffering from tuberculosis since 1884, often went to country retreats for medical treatment. He died of tuberculosis in Yalta in 1904, when he was forty-four years old. Act 1, Part 1 Summary The classic Russian play The Three Sisters explores the lives and dreams of three sisters, their brother, their friends and their lovers. The play, like the characters, is moody and atmospheric, gently exploring themes relating to the human capacities for dreaming, inaction in the face of those dreams and despair when those dreams disappear.
The first act is set in the drawing room of the home of the Prozoroff sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina. Conversation reveals that they’re hosting a party in honor of Irina’s Saint’s Day. As they wait for their guests to arrive and lunch to be served, Olga recalls in detail the day, exactly a year ago, that their father died. Irina tells her to not think of it. Olga then recalls how the family left Moscow eleven years ago and says that even though it’s a beautiful day, she longs to be back there. Tusenbach, Solyony and Chebutykin appear in the dining room, joking about how what is being said is all garbage.
Masha whistles quietly to herself as she reads. Olga tells her to stop and says that even though teaching all day gives her headaches and even though she feels her strength draining away, her dreams of – Irina completes her thought, saying that their dreams of going to Moscow are stronger than ever. Chebutykin and Tusenbach laugh as Olga and Irina refer to Masha being the only one who wouldn’t be able to go. Irina then talks about how happy she’s felt all day, referring to memories of her childhood. Olga talks about how well and happy Irina looks, how lovely Masha is, how their brother Andrei is aining weight and how she herself has gotten older and thinner. She then talks about how being away from the school makes her feel younger and freer. She wishes she’d been married, and she feels she could still be married, saying she’d love her husband. Tusenbach comes in, saying the conversation is nonsense. Tusenbach announces that the sisters will be receiving a visit later that day from their new commander, Vershinin. He describes him as nice but says he talks too much, particularly about his wife and children, and he describes the wife as being half-mad.
Solyony comes in, talking to Chebutykin, who ignores him as he makes notes about the components of a medication in a little notebook. Irina goes to him, talking about how happy she is and describing herself as a little white bird. She has realized that the purpose and happiness of life can be found in hard, physical work. Olga jokes that Irina spends so much time lying in bed thinking, and Irina tells her to think of her as a woman now and not a little girl. Tusenbach talks at length about how he too longs for work.
He was born and raised in an aristocratic family, and he feels some kind of storm of change is coming, change that will wipe out laziness, indifference and boredom. He says that in twenty-five years everyone will be working, and Solyony jokes that in twenty-five years Tusenbach will be dead, perhaps even shot by him. Chebutykin talks about how he doesn’t really work, saying that since he left university he hasn’t read anything but newspapers. A knock is heard, Chebutykin says he’s being called downstairs and rushes out.
Irina, Tusenbach and Olga talk about how he seems to be up to something, referring to how he always brings Irina extravagant presents. Masha stands and prepares to go, saying she’ll be back later and recalling the exciting parties they had when their father was alive. She talks about feeling depressed, and Olga says tearfully that she understands. Solyony jokes about how annoying it is when a woman talks philosophical thoughts, and Masha speaks angrily to them both. Anfisa comes in, followed by Ferapont, who’s carrying a large cake. Anfisa announces that the cake came from Protopopov, the Chairman of the District Council.
The hard-of-hearing Ferapont can’t make out Irina’s message of thanks. Olga tells Ferapont and Anfisa to get some lunch in the kitchen, and they go out. Masha says she doesn’t like Protopopov, and Irina says he wasn’t invited to the party. Chebutykin comes in with a large silver samovar. As the sisters react with embarrassment and Tusenbach laughs, Chebutykin says the girls are all he has in the world. He’s an old man, and he loved their mother. Finally, he says that there’s nothing wrong with giving expensive presents to people one loves.
Act 1, Part 1 Analysis Like most of the full-length plays by this playwright, the dramatic and thematic content of this play is revealed in subtle ways, with its meaning defined by its sense of mood, atmosphere and character. This makes it very different from plays defined by active plots, increasing emotional tension and vivid symbolism. All three elements are present in The Three Sisters, but they are less relevant to the play’s meaning than its overall sense of tone, its gently pointed observations about human nature and its juxtapositions.
For example, even though Olga’s memories, Irina’s dreams and Masha’s moods are all very real and very vivid, their true nature is revealed by the repeated comments from the men about conversations being nonsense and garbage. The audience knows perfectly well that they’re talking about their own conversations, but because they’re carefully juxtaposed with speeches from the sisters, we also know that the playwright is telling us that ultimately, everything the women are saying is nonsense.
In other words, their dreams are empty. In spite of the women talking about wanting to go to Moscow, the men are indirectly saying they’re never going to get there. As the play continues, we learn why. They’re unwilling and/or unable to actually do anything in order to get there. This is the play’s central comment about human nature, that extravagant dreams are all well and good but that action must be taken in order to make those dreams reality. Several elements of foreshadowing appear in this scene.
These include Solyony’s reference to shooting Tusenbach, which foreshadows Tusenbach’s death at the end of the play, and also Tusenbach’s reference to Vershinin and his family, which foreshadows Vershinin’s imminent appearance and the appearance of his family in the sisters’ home in Act 3. Other foreshadowing includes the mention of Protopopov, a character who plays an unseen role in the development of the future relationship between Andrei and his wife. Two aspects of Russian life play important roles in this scene.
The first is the reference to Irina’s name day, a celebration of the saint from whom Irina received one of her names. The giving of children the name of a saint is a Russian tradition. The second aspect of Russian life mentioned here is the samovar, a large heated urn in which tea is brewed and served. Because they’re usually made of a less expensive metal than silver, Chebutykin’s gift is truly extravagant and inappropriate coming from someone who isn’t either wealthy or a member of the immediate family. Act 1, Part 2 Summary Anfisa comes in, announcing Vershinin’s arrival.
As she goes out, urging Irina to behave herself, Vershinin comes in, exclaiming that he’s very glad to be there and referring to his memories of having met the sisters when they were little girls. He comments on how time passes. He explains that he knew their father when they were both in Moscow, says he remembers Masha’s face a bit and talks about how he used to visit them all. As Irina and Olga talk about how they’ll be back in Moscow by the fall, Masha suddenly recalls Vershinin’s visits and how they always used to call him “the lovesick major” because he was always in love with someone or other.
As Vershinin laughs, Masha becomes tearful about how old he now looks. Olga says he doesn’t look old at all, and Vershinin says he’s only forty-three. He and the sisters talk about which streets they used to live on, with Vershinin recalling a bridge near his home and how “a lonely man feels sick at heart there. ” He quickly changes his mood, talking about the wonderful river running through their small town and how beautiful the climate is. The train station is far away, and nobody knows why. Solyony makes a bad joke, and there is an awkward silence. Then Olga says that she too recalls Vershinin.
He says he knew their mother, and Chebutykin talks about how beautiful she was. Irina mentions that she’s buried in Moscow, and Masha says she’s starting to forget her face. This leads Vershinin into a long speech about how everyone will be forgotten someday. What’s important will one day be insignificant, and their lives will be considered idle. Tusenbach suggests that perhaps their lives will be recalled with respect. Solyony teases him, and Tusenbach asks him to go. When Solyony persists, Tusenbach keeps talking, and Chebutykin jokes about how small people are in general and how small he is in particular.
A violin is heard, and the sisters explain that it’s being played by Andrei, whom they say is going to be a professor. They also talk about how they’ve been teasing him for being in love with a local girl, with Masha going on at some length about how vulgar she is and about how she’s heard the girl is engaged to Protopopov. She then calls Andrei, who comes in and is introduced to Vershinin. When he hears Vershinin is from Moscow, Andrei jokes that his sisters will now never leave him alone. The sisters tease their brother, and he becomes upset.
The girls joke that they used to tease Vershinin and that he never minded. Andrei makes them stop, explaining he had an unsettled night and that his lack of sleep has kept him from doing what he really wants to do, translate a book into English. He says their father had high expectations of all his children, and he (Andrei) has gained weight since his father’s death as though he’s been freed from carrying a heavy load. All the children know several languages, and Andrei refers particularly to Irina knowing Italian. Masha talks about how useless knowing so many languages is.
This leads Vershinin to talk at length about how even in their small town, their knowledge will slowly gain influence. Over the years, that influence will grow to the point where the town is populated by people like them. He says that life is meant to be beautiful and that their knowledge is the seed of the beautiful life to come. Masha announces she’s staying to lunch. Tusenbach starts talking about how that beautiful life must be earned and worked for. Vershinin talks about how beautiful the sisters’ home is. Tusenbach tries again to talk about the value of work.
Vershinin talks about how he often wonders what would happen if life could be started anew and says that if he had the chance, he’d create a life in which he lived in a house like that of the sisters. Vershinin mentions his wife and daughters and says he wouldn’t marry. Act 1, Part 2 Analysis The key element of this section is the introduction of Vershinin and the repeated foreshadowing of his eventual affair with Masha. He and Masha share recollections of each other, and he is also referred to as the lovesick major.
His reference to a lonely man, which the audience can easily understand from the context of what he says as a reference to himself, and Masha’s sudden change of heart about staying for lunch provide additional foreshadowing. Their relationship is also foreshadowed in Vershinin’s comments about wanting to start a new life, something that both he and Masha clearly want to do, as the continuing action of the play reveals. Vershinin’s reasons are revealed through his conversation, while Masha’s reasons are revealed as the result of the entrance of her husband, who appears at the beginning of the final section of this act.
Another piece of foreshadowing is Andrei’s reference to Irina’s knowledge of Italian, which foreshadows her emotional breakdown later in the play when she laments having forgotten all her Italian. Also, Solyony’s continued teasing of Tusenbach continues to foreshadow Tusenbach’ eventual death. Finally, the sisters’ teasing of Andrei about Natasha foreshadows her entrance and their eventual marriage, while Masha’s reference to the rumors about Natasha and Protopopov foreshadow developments later in the play that imply they’re having an affair.
Vershinin’s comments and observations about the future can easily be interpreted as some kind of thematic statement. The same point could be made in terms of Tusenbach and Irina’s comments about the value of work. They are related to the play’s theme, but not in the way they might at first seem. Both men are, in essence, saying that they don’t want to live the lives they’re living. This state of being, or perhaps non-being might be a better phrase, is also true of the three sisters.
Olga and Irina are desperate to live lives in Moscow, and Masha (as we’ll see) is equally desperate to live any kind of life as long as it doesn’t involve her husband. In short, none of the play’s central characters want to live the lives in which they find themselves, a situation that also becomes true of Andrei and Natasha later in the play. The action of the play, such as it is, reveals how these dreams of escape are all futile because, as previously discussed, the characters don’t really do anything to bring them to reality. Tusenbach and Irina do get jobs, and Masha and Vershinin have an affair.
However, Irina never does anything to try to get to Moscow, and neither does Olga. By the same token, Vershinin and Masha have their fling, but at the end of the play, they return to life with their respective spouses. Later in the play, the audience also sees how Andrei’s dreams of success have evaporated, and he finds himself completely dominated by his wife. Only Natasha, ironically enough, gets everything she wants, but the point here is that she gets it because she works for it, fights for it and doesn’t stop until she gets it. She has bad manners. She’s pushy, and she’s selfish.
However, she realizes her dreams. Do the other characters need to be more pushy and more selfish? They may or may not. The dramatic point of the play is not whether selfishness and pushiness are virtues but rather that the characters need to dosomething. The thematic point of the play, therefore, is that all human beings need to work for something. Otherwise, life will end up as hollow as those of the three sisters and their men. Act 1, Part 3 Summary Kulygin comes in, greets Irina, gives her a little book he wrote detailing the history of the school where he and Olga both teach and introduces himself to Vershinin.
Irina tells Kulygin he already gave her a copy of the book. Kulygin takes the book from her and gives it to Vershinin. Vershinin prepares to go, but Olga and Irina insist he join them for lunch. He agrees to stay and goes with Olga into the dining room in the back. Kulygin chatters about the tradition of Sunday rest. He comments on how the rugs should be cleaned, how life must be ordered, how glad he is that Masha loves him, how the curtains should be cleaned and how he and Masha have been invited to join the director of the school for a walk.
Masha irritably says she’s not going, refusing to explain why. Kulygin talks about his plans to join the director at his home in the evening and comments that the clock is fast. Andrei’s violin is heard as Olga calls everyone in to lunch. As they all go in, Masha sternly tells Chebutykin to not drink. Chebutykin says it’s been two years since he was drunk, but Masha says again he shouldn’t drink at all. She then complains about having to go to the director’s again. Tusenbach and Chebutykin advise her to not go, and she goes into the dining room, complaining about how awful her life is.
Solyony teases Tusenbach again. Kulygin drinks a toast to how wonderful Masha is. Vershinin talks about how good he feels being in the house, and they all prepare to sit down to lunch. In the drawing room, Irina comments to Tusenbach on Masha’s bad mood, saying she’s not happy with Kulygin. Olga calls to Andrei, and he comes in as Irina talks about how uneasy she feels around Solyony. Tusenbach talks about how he feels sorry for Solyony. He’s fine when they’re alone together, but when they’re around people, Solyony becomes crude and bullying.
Tusenbach then talks about how much he loves Irina, saying his desire for work is bound up with his desire to make a beautiful life for her. Irina tearfully says life isn’t beautiful for her or her sisters, saying she feels like grass stifled by weeds. She talks about needing to work, saying she comes from a family that has always despised work. Natasha rushes in, checks herself in a mirror, congratulates Irina and greets Tusenbach. Olga comes in and greets her, commenting that her clothes don’t match. Natasha wonders whether it’s a kind of omen, but Olga says it just looks odd.
She leads Natasha into the dining room as Kulygin toasts a future fiancy for Irina. He and Chebutykin joke about how she’s already got a fiancy, and Masha demands a drink. Solyony jokes that the liqueur is made of cockroaches, and Olga invites everyone to come for dinner. Chebutykin jokes about how everyone is made for love, and Andrei loses his temper. Fedotik and Rode arrive. Fedotik takes a lot of pictures, and he offers Irina a toy top. Kulygin jokes about how there are thirteen people at the table, and he says that that means there are lovers there.
He jokes that one of them is Chebutykin, who in turn jokes about why Natasha’s suddenly embarrassed. Natasha runs into the drawing room, and Andrei runs after her. Natasha says she couldn’t help running off, adding that she knows that it’s bad manners but just couldn’t stay. Andrei comforts her and moves her to a window where they can’t be seen. He talks about how wonderful her youth is and how much in love with her he is. Then, he proposes marriage and kisses her. Act 1, Part 3 Analysis The third section of the act develops several key relationships.
The first is the romantic triangle involving Vershinin, Masha and Kulygin, whose pedantic boorishness is so vividly portrayed that the audience immediately understands why Masha finds the intelligent and apparently more sensitive Vershinin so attractive. The second is the relationship between Natasha and Andrei, which is something of a mystery. We wonder, as perhaps the three sisters do, why he finds her attractive. The answer might be found in the previously discussed point about Natasha’s determination. She may dress badly, but she’s got spirit.
This is indicated by the way she gets herself away from an uncomfortable situation, as opposed to putting up with it the way that “ladies” like the three sisters might. The idea is supported later in the play by the way Andrei remains something of a non-entity, with no real career and no personality. In other words, he’s attracted to her get up and go, mostly because his own got away. The third relationship developed is that of Tusenbach and Irina. Tusenbach is revealed as a thorough romantic, passionately idealistic in a way none of the characters are. They have dreams and longings, while he has goals and at least a degree of zeal.
He believes in his dreams more strongly and actually makes at least some effort to bring them to fruition. He confesses his love to Irina and actually gets a job, but like the other characters, he doesn’t go all the way. Throughout the play, he seems content to wait for Irina to come to him in the same way as he seems prepared to wait for the future, as opposed to moving directly and determinedly into it. As for Irina, her tearfulness in their conversation suggests that her earlier radiant happiness was actually a mask and that she actually is beginning to despair that her life is never going to be what she dreams.
The despair hasn’t yet taken over completely. That comes in Act 3, when the world around her is literally destroyed by fire in the same way as her inner, dream-filled world has been destroyed by pointless work, frustrated dreams and the banality of people around her, particularly Natasha. Nevertheless, the seeds of despair are planted in this scene and grow throughout the play. The other key piece of foreshadowing here, aside from the glimpse of Irina’s despair, is Masha’s reference to Chebutykin’s drinking.
This foreshadows his appearance in Act 3, Part 1, in which he refers to having killed a patient after operating on her while drunk. Act 2, Part 1 Summary This act also takes place in the drawing/dining room, some months after the events of Act 1. Natasha comes in, searching to ensure no servants have left any candles burning. She calls to Andrei, who comes in. Conversation reveals that it’s Carnival Week. Olga now works at the Teacher’s Council office, and Irina works at the telegraph office. Andrei and Natasha now are married and have a child, Bobik, over whom Natasha worries excessively.
She tells Andrei she doesn’t want the maskers to stop by, saying they’ll disturb Bobik’s rest. Andrei reminds her they were invited and that the decision is really up to his sisters, who are still mistresses of the house. Natasha says she’ll tell them as well and talks about her plans to move Bobik into Irina’s room and Irina into Olga’s room. After asking why Andrei isn’t saying anything, she tells him Ferapont has come with a message from the council. Andrei tells her to tell Ferapont to come in, and Natasha goes. A moment later, Ferapont comes in with some papers and a book.
Andrei looks at the papers, commenting as he does about how surprised he is at how life changes. He refers to a book of university lectures he’s been reading. He has been named secretary to the council run by Protopopov, and the most he can realistically be now is actually on the council. He still dreams of being a famous lecturer at Moscow University, though. Ferapont comments that he doesn’t really hear what Andrei is saying, but Andrei says if he could hear properly, he (Andrei) wouldn’t be talking, adding that his wife never listens and that he’s afraid his sisters will laugh at them.
He reminisces about his days in Moscow, saying that there nobody knows you but you’re not a stranger, while here everybody knows him but he’s a total stranger. After chatting briefly about whether Ferapont was ever in Moscow, Andrei tells him he can go and then goes back into his own room. Masha and Vershinin come in from another direction, in the middle of a conversation about the bad manners of the people of the town as opposed to the good manners Masha is used to dealing with from her father’s fellow soldiers. She also talks about how she married Kulygin when she was eighteen.
She was both afraid of him and impressed by him because he was a schoolteacher, but she has since become completely disillusioned. She talks about how miserable she is when she’s with his boorish colleagues, leading Vershinin to talk about how everyone in the town, military or otherwise, is as uninteresting as everyone else. He wonders aloud why Russians are such lofty thinkers but live such low, worn out lives. Masha asks why he’s unhappy, and he explains that one of his daughters is unwell and that his wife is in a very bad mood.
He kisses her hand and apologizes for talking so much, but he says he’s got nobody in his life other than her. Masha refers to the spooky sound of the wind in the stove, but he goes on talking about how wonderful and beautiful she is and saying how much he loves her. At first she tells him to stop, and then she tells him to keep going. When she sees Irina and Tusenbach coming, she tells him again to stop. As Tusenbach and Irina come in, Tusenbach is talking about how he has a German name but is truly Russian at heart.
Irina complains that she’s tired, but he doesn’t appear to notice, talking about how he’ll gladly see her home every night. As he greets Masha and Vershinin, Irina talks about how she was rude to a customer at the telegraph office for no reason, and she asks whether the maskers are coming. Masha confirms that they are, and Irina again says she’s tired. Masha jokes that she’s starting to look like a boy, and Irina says the mindlessness and soullessness of the work is really starting to get to her. There’s a knock on the floor, and Irina understands it to be a signal from Chebutykin, asking if he can come up.
She tells Tusenbach to answer and then tells Masha that Chebutykin and Andrei were out gambling again and lost a lot of money. She talks about her continuing dream of going to Moscow, saying she’s planning to leave in a few months. Masha comments that Natasha mustn’t hear about Andrei’s losses, and Irina says it wouldn’t matter. Chebutykin comes in and sits at the dining room table. Masha and Irina talk about how he hasn’t paid any rent in months. When he calls Irina to join him, she joins him at the table and begins playing solitaire. Act 2, Part 1 Analysis
In the first part of this section, the audience sees Natasha’s previously discussed determination in action as she overrides the wishes of her husband and his sisters about the maskers and makes plans to override their lives even more. In short, she is pursuing what she wants in a way that Andrei has clearly never done. It’s also becoming clear that his sisters have never done things that way either. The contrast between Natasha and the Prozoroffs is further defined by the way Andrei simply talks about how unhappy he is even while Natasha is acting to improve and/or change her life.
Andrei’s capacity for, and habit of, talking rather than actually acting is repeated in this section by Irina. It’s important to note that even though she talks about leaving for Moscow in a few months, there is no actual evidence that she’s doing anything about it. There is no evidence of tickets or packing, and she has no real plans of any kind. The audience sees her being sucked into the same kind of dull, repetitive work that Olga refers to in Act 1 as sapping her of her strength and her will. This is a development in her personality that even Tusenbach’s protestations of love and Masha’s teasing about her looks seem unable to slow.
In contrast to Irina’s tiredness, Andrei’s dullness and the way they both complain, Masha’s flirting with Vershinin stands out as the only effort being made by anyone in the Prozoroff family to create desired change in her life. She wants to escape, somehow, from her husband, and she is making carefully modulated overtures to Vershinin so that he will help her get away, whether emotionally, sexually or intellectually. For his part, Vershinin is also making an effort to get out of his misery. His romantic proclamations perform the same unction for him as they do for her, drawing them both out of the lives they can’t bear to live and into an existence where there is both excitement and intimacy. As previously discussed, however, they both escape only to a point. Foreshadowing in this scene includes the reference to Protopopov, which foreshadows Natasha’s taking a ride with him later in the act, and Irina’s despair, which foreshadows her emotional breakdown in the following act. Act 2, Part 2 Summary Vershinin suggests that he, Tusenbach and Masha imagine what life will be like in two hundred years.
Tusenbach suggests that in spite of there being great technological advances, human beings will be exactly the same, complaining about how empty life is and being afraid to die. Vershinin says, as he did in Act 1, Part 2, that life will be very different in two hundred years and that work must begin now to prepare. He adds that there can be no true happiness in the present but there will be in the future, “for the descendants of [his] descendants. ” Fedotik and Rode join Irina and Chebutykin in the dining room as Tusenbach asks what Vershinin would say if Tusenbach claimed to be already happy.
Vershinin says he can’t be. As Masha laughs quietly, Tusenbach says again life will never change. Birds will migrate the same way, and philosophers will philosophize the same way. Ultimately, he says, life has no meaning. Masha says she believes that life has to have some meaning, or else it’s all waste. Vershinin says it’s a shame that youth passes, and Tusenbach says it’s difficult to argue with them. In the dining room, Chebutykin comments on an article in the paper that he’s reading and makes a note in his little book. Tusenbach tells Masha he’s resigned from the military.
Masha says she doesn’t like civilians, and the audience realizes that she’s referring back to her earlier conversation with Vershinin, in which she said she prefers soldiers to civilians. Tusenbach talks about how he’s looking forward to working hard and joins Irina in the dining room just as Fedotik is giving her some crayons. She complains about how he always treats her like a child, but then she laughs with joy at the pretty colors. The samovar is brought in, and Anfisa pours tea. Solyony comes into the dining room. Natasha also comes in, and several conversations continue at the same time.
As Vershinin and Masha talk about the wind, Irina says her game of solitaire will come out, but Fedotik says it won’t, joking that it means she won’t be going to Moscow. Meanwhile, Chebutykin reads aloud from his newspaper, and Anfisa brings tea to Vershinin and Masha. Natasha chatters to Solyony about how special Bobik is, and Solyony makes a crude joke about how all children should be cooked and eaten. Vershinin tells Masha a story about a prisoner who said he never noticed the beauty of bird song until he was in jail, and who then said once he was released, he went back to not noticing.
He says that in the same way, once Masha is in Moscow, she won’t notice its beauty, saying again that happiness doesn’t exist; we just long for it. Anfisa brings him a note. He reads it and then tells Masha his wife has again tried to commit suicide. He goes out, and Anfisa complains that he hasn’t finished his tea. Masha loses her temper and goes into the dining room. Andrei calls for Anfisa, and she goes out to him as Masha messes up Irina’s game of solitaire. Irina becomes upset. Chebutykin makes a joke, and Natasha asks why she makes herself look so ugly.
She says Irina would be charming if she didn’t speak so crudely and that Irina speaks in very bad French. Tusenbach and the others can barely restrain their laughter. Natasha again becomes embarrassed and goes out. Irina asks where Vershinin went. Masha explains that something happened with his wife as Tusenbach goes to Solyony, offers him a drink and offers to make peace and be friends. Solyony says there’s no need to make peace, saying there’s no quarrel. He goes on to say he’s fine when he’s alone with someone, but when he’s with large groups of people, he can’t help behaving strangely.
He also says he doesn’t dislike Tusenbach and that he makes the comments he does just because he’s moody. Andrei comes in, sitting quietly with his book of lectures as Tusenbach tells Solyony he’s resigning from the military. Solyony tells him to give up on his dreams and then interrupts as Chebutykin and Irina pass by, talking about the ingredients of a stew. Solyony says Chebutykin has the name of one of the ingredients wrong. He and Solyony argue, and Andrei asks them to be quiet. Tusenbach asks when the maskers are coming, and Irina says they’ll be there soon.
Chebutykin and Tusenbach sing and dance in the way the maskers would. Tusenbach then promises to go to the university with Andrei, leading to an argument with Solyony about how many universities there are. After insisting there are two and being ignored, Solyony leaves the room. Tusenbach applauds his leaving and then sits at a piano and plays. As Masha sings and dances by herself, Natasha has a quiet word with Chebutykin and then goes out. Chebutykin then whispers to Tusenbach, who stops playing. Chebutykin tells Irina they need to go.
Irina asks why they aren’t staying for the maskers, and Andrei sheepishly confesses that the maskers aren’t coming because Natasha doesn’t want them around when Bobik’s not well. Masha suggests it’s Natasha who’s not well, in the head. Andrei goes out, and Chebutykin follows him. Fedotik and Rode say their farewells and go, and Masha and Irina follow them to the door. Act 2, Part 2 Analysis In the same way as the comments of Vershinin, Tusenbach and Irina in Act 1, Part 2 might be interpreted as making thematic statements, comments made by several characters in this scene might be interpreted the same way.
These include Vershinin’s comments that life will change, Tusenbach’ comments that life will never change and is ultimately meaningless, Masha’s comments that life must have meaning and Vershinin’ story about the prisoner and the birds. The point must be made, however, that philosophical comments made by characters aren’t necessarily the philosophical comments of the play. In fact, the point made by all these philosophical conversations is related to the point made earlier – that these characters are talkers rather than doers, intellectuals and dreamers as opposed to actual participants in life.
It’s true that they participate to a point. Tusenbach resigns from the military, and Vershinin and Masha seduce each other. In general, though, their efforts are pretty minimal. They don’t really want to make a change, an idea born out by the way Irina at first resents being treated like a child by Fedotik and then turns around and reacts with very childlike happiness at his little gift. Later in this act, the audience sees again how Natasha is a very different character, doing exactly what she wants and not really thinking at all.
Other than the philosophies of the various characters, what’s particularly noteworthy about this section of the act is its busyness. Many things seem to be going on at the same time. Aside from creating an effectively realistic portrayal of what happens with large parties – as smaller parties form and individuals move from group to group – the sequence gives a clear sense of the kind of lives these characters live. The audience experiences them becoming involved in petty arguments and minor joys, in discussions about large subjects that actually perform the trivial unction of killing time and in spontaneous music and dancing that is actually an expression of frustration and loneliness. What they’re doing is actually important because they’re all just waiting, and not just for the maskers. The maskers, in fact, are a symbol of what they’re truly waiting for – the future, the chance to feel and hearing someone to say something loving to them. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the maskers come but are sent away. This represents the way the future comes but isn’t being faced head on by anyone but Natasha, who faces both the maskers and the future with equal determination.
It’s this sense of a lack of importance to life, this sense of futility in her activities and those of the people around her, that leads Irina to her moment of climactic frustration at the end of the act and contributes to her emotional breakdown in Act 3. Act 2, Part 3 Summary Chebutykin and Andrei come back in, dressed to go out. Chebutykin talks about how he never married because he never had time and because he was in love with Andrei’s mother. Andrei says marriage is boring, but Chebutykin says it’s worse to be lonely. Andrei urges him to hurry, saying he’s afraid Natasha will stop them.
The audience understands that the two of them are going out gambling again. As they go out, Andrei asks Chebutykin what he should do about his shortness of breath. Chebutykin says he doesn’t know, adding that he’s forgotten everything about being a doctor. After Andrei and Chebutykin are gone, laughter is heard from outside. Irina and Anfisa come in from separate entrances, and Irina says the maskers must be sent away. As Anfisa goes out, Solyony comes in, apologizing for his behavior and saying he deeply loves Irina. Even though she tells him to leave her alone, he talks about how beautiful she is.
Finally, her anger gets through to him. He says that even though he’s professing noble emotions, it’s as though he’s not in the room and promises to kill any rival for her love. He repeats that he loves her. Natasha passes through wearing her dressing gown and becoming embarrassed when she sees Solyony. Solyony goes out, and Natasha comments on how tired Irina looks, suggesting that Irina think about moving in with Olga so that Bobik can have her room. Irina doesn’t seem to be listening. A maid comes in and tells Natasha that Protopopov has come to take her for a ride in his carriage.
She laughs about how silly men are and tells the maid to tell Protopopov she’s coming. She goes out to get ready as Kulygin and Vershinin come in, wondering what happened to the party, looking for Masha and asking why Protopopov is downstairs. Olga also comes in, complaining about how her head aches and talking about how much money Andrei has lost in gambling. Vershinin says his wife is all right. In passing, he mentions the possibility that his regiment will be ordered to leave and asks Kulygin to go out somewhere with him because he can’t bear to go home.
Kulygin at first says he doesn’t want to go but then says he needs to leave, disappointed at the party not happening. He goes out, followed by Vershinin. Olga talks again about her headache. She says the whole town is gossiping about Andrei and she’s looking forward to her day off, and then she goes out. Irina comments that everyone has gone. Natasha passes through on her way out, telling her maid she’ll be back in half an hour. After she’s gone, Irina says to herself, “To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow! ” Act 2, Part 3 Analysis Once again in this section the audience sees the characters filling in time.
Specifically, Chebutykin and Andrei fill the emptiness and loneliness of their lives with gambling. In their conversation, we also understand for the first time a little more of why Chebutykin is so devoted to the family, and particularly to Irina. His love for them is an outlet for the love he felt for their mother. Love also appears, much more surprisingly, in the conversation between Solyony and Irina. Up to this point, Solyony might easily have been perceived as being eccentric and angry, but essentially harmless and just a little irritating.
At this point, however, he is easily among the most passionate and deeply feeling characters in the play. Unlike the longings of many of the others, which are expressed in terms that come across as either watery or intellectual, Solyony’s passion comes across as deeply felt and almost dangerously intense. The fact that Natasha interrupts his conversation with Irina is no coincidence. Natasha and Solyony are both ruthless in their pursuit of what they want and dream of. The fact that Solyony doesn’t actually get it is irrelevant.
He feels strongly enough to say he’ll kill, and he will actually follow through in a way that few of the other characters follow through on their dreams. Irina’s crying out for Moscow is a response to everything she’s experienced in this act, her fatigue and disillusionment in Part 1, the relative emptiness of the lives lived (including her own) in Part 2 and her distaste for Solyony in this section. She is clearly in despair and sees escape to Moscow as her only hope. Later in the play, however, it becomes clear that she will never actually go.
She gets more and more frustrated and disillusioned, but she never, ever goes. The question of why not is answered by the previously discussed idea that she, like so many other characters in the play, is a thinker and dreamer, not a doer. Making her dreams come true is perhaps too hard for her, or maybe she doesn’t really know how, her mind having been filled with several languages at the expense of practicality, determination and coping skills. Whatever the reason, her final words represent the present despair felt by Olga, Vershinin, Masha, Solyony and Andrei, and the deeper despair to come for all of them.
In fact, in the cries of this idealistic young woman, the audience can hear the cry of every human being that hopes his or her dreams will once, just once, come true. Conversely, in her lack of action we see how the choices of every human being determine whether that actually happens. Act 3, Part 1 Summary The third act is set in what has become Olga and Irina’s bedroom, at around three in the morning. Fire alarms ring offstage. Masha lies on a sofa as Olga and Anfisa enter, and conversation reveals that there has been a major fire in the town.
As Olga goes through her clothes looking for things she can give to the fire’s victims, Anfisa talks about two little girls downstairs, imagining that their father has been killed. Olga comments that Vershinin’s house has been almost completely destroyed and that Fedotik’s home has burned to the ground. She calls for help with the clothes, and a moment later Ferapont comes in and takes out an armful, commenting as he goes on a fire in Moscow that he survived. After he’s gone, Olga tiredly tells Anfisa to give everything away, makes arrangements for the Vershinin family to sleep there and comments that Chebutykin has gotten very drunk.
Anfisa worries that there are plans being made to send her away, but Olga reassures her and tells her to sit and rest. Natasha comes in chattering about how a society for the relief of those left homeless should be formed. Conversation reveals that she’s had another child, Sophie, and that Natasha is worried about her catching influenza from one of the many strangers in the house. She looks at herself in the mirror and compliments herself on how well she’s kept her figure, and then she shouts at Anfisa for sitting down when she’s in the room.
Anfisa goes out. Natasha complains to Olga that Anfisa is useless and then comments on how tired Olga looks. Conversation reveals that there’s an election coming up for the position of headmistress at the school. Natasha is convinced Olga will get it, and Olga doesn’t want it. Olga tells Natasha she was too rude to Anfisa. Natasha apologizes, and Masha goes out, angry at being disturbed. Olga tells Natasha that rude language upsets her, and Natasha again apologizes. Then, she says Anfisa really should be living in the country because she doesn’t really work.
As the fire alarm bell rings again, Natasha talks at length about how she’s running the house while Olga is working at the school. She calls Anfisa names, loses her temper and says that by the next day Anfisa will be gone. As Natasha goes out, Kulygin comes in looking for Masha. Conversation reveals that only one section of town has been destroyed. Kulygin mentions that if he hadn’t married Masha he’d have wanted to marry Olga. In a moment of quiet they hear Chebutykin coming, comment on how drunk he is and then hide themselves so that they don’t embarrass him.
A moment later Chebutykin comes in and washes his hands as he speaks to himself about how he remembers nothing about being a doctor, recalling a patient he was treating recently who died. Olga slips out of the room as Chebutykin looks at himself in a mirror and wonders whether he’s really a man anymore and whether he truly exists. He starts weeping as he wishes he didn’t exist. He recalls a conversation at his club during which people were talking about well known writers. He didn’t know any of them but pretended he did. He talks about the banality of life and again recalls the patient he killed.
Irina, Vershinin and Tusenbach come in, with Tusenbach wearing new and stylish civilian clothes. Vershinin talks about how much of the town was saved because of the efforts of the soldiers, and Irina refers to how many of them, including Solyony, are sitting in the dining room. She also tells Chebutykin to go to bed. Chebutykin says he’s all right, and Kulygin comes forward and jokes about how drunk he is. Tusenbach talks about being asked to produce a benefit concert for the refugees from the fire. He suggests that Masha should play the piano as part of it, but Irina says she’s forgotten how to play.
Kulygin talks about how much he loves Masha but says the director of the school might not think her participation is appropriate. Chebutykin picks up a small china clock and studies it as Vershinin mentions that he’s heard rumors their brigade is being transferred. Tusenbach says that when they go the town will be empty, but Irina says it won’t matter since they’re going to Moscow. Chebutykin drops the clock, and it shatters. As Irina says the clock belonged to her mother, Chebutykin suggests philosophically that perhaps it didn’t really exist and that nobody really exists.
He wonders why people are staring at him, shouts that Natasha is having an affair with Protopopov and nobody knows or cares and then goes out. After commenting on how strange the situation is, Vershinin tells how he ran home when the fire started. He found his wife missing and his little girls terrified and wondered how much more they’d have to suffer. He grabbed them and ran and then discovered his wife at the Prozoroff house. Masha comes back in and lies down as Vershinin continues, comparing the fire with what happens when enemies at war make sudden raids on each other.
He then refers again to his idea that in a few hundred years people will look back on the life they’re leading and laugh, and he says again that Irina and her sisters are in the forefront of the process of transformation. He begins to sing. Masha joins in, and Fedotik rushes in, laughing strangely at how everything he owns has been destroyed. Solyony follows, and Irina tells him to go away. Solyony complains about how Tusenbach can come in while he can’t, while Vershinin and Masha continue to sing. Solyony makes fun of Tusenbach, and then he, Vershinin and Fedotik go out. Act 3, Part 1 Analysis
As previously discussed in the analysis of Act 1, Part 3, the destruction caused by the fire represents the destruction of the dreams and hopes of those who continue to have them: the Prozoroff sisters, Tusenbach, Vershinin, Andrei and, to an extent, even Solyony. Those dreams aren’t completely destroyed quite yet. Irina still dreams of going to Moscow, and Vershinin and Masha are continuing to flirt with each other, presumably still in the hope that their relationship will alleviate their unhappiness. Also, Solyony is clearly still drawn to Irina, and Tusenbach still has dreams of fulfillment in work and of happiness with Irina.
Only Andrei, as will become clear in the second part of this act, has no dreams left at all. Even though the dreams of the others remain, there is the powerful sense in this scene that the destruction of those dreams is both imminent and inevitable, a sense conveyed not only by the fire but also by several other factors. The first factor conveying the hopelessness of the characters’ dreams is Natasha’s reference to Olga becoming headmistress, which is particularly noteworthy because Natasha seems determined Olga will get the job.
The audience has seen what happens when Natasha is determined about something. The second factor is the appearance of Chebutykin, which functions on several levels. His drunken musings on his loss of identity represent the way that Irina and the others, who define their identities by their dreams, will lose their identities once their dreams fade away in the same way as Chebutykin’s knowledge, which has defined his identity as a doctor. Another level of symbolism in this scene can be found in his accidental destruction of the clock.
Because of its association with the Prozoroffs’ mother, the woman Chebutykin loved and dreamed of marrying, its destruction symbolizes the destruction of his dreams of happiness and, therefore, symbolizes the destruction of the dreams of the others. Several characters seem to take the fire and its destructive consequences in their stride. This is perhaps because their dreams and goals are being fulfilled (Natasha), because they don’t have dreams for a life beyond their own (Kulygin) or because their dreams are so relatively insignificant to them that their destruction doesn’t really matter (Fedotik).
For those who continue to dream of a transformed life and continue to have those dreams unfulfilled, the physical devastation caused by the fire and the emotional devastation of its victims clearly and vividly foreshadow the spiritual devastation the many dreamers in this play are about to encounter. Are the characters aware of this connection? It seems as though on a subconscious, spiritual level, they just might be. This is another example of the way meaning in this play can be defined by subtext and juxtaposition, as opposed to overt action and direct comment or revelation by the characters.
One final piece of foreshadowing occurs in Vershinin’ passing mention of the rumor that he and his brigade are going to be transferred. This is the second time such a rumor has been mentioned, the first being in Act 2, Part 3. The first time the transfer never actually comes to pass, but in Act 4, this time the rumors will prove to be true. Act 3, Part 2 Summary Irina discovers Tusenbach has fallen asleep. As he wakes, he talks briefly about how he’s soon to start a new job at a brickyard. He then talks about how beautiful Irina is, his hopes for living and working with her and his memories of how happy she was on her Name Day (in Act 1).
He comments that morning has begun and muses romantically about giving his life for her. As he talks, Masha repeatedly tells him to go out, and finally he does. She also suggests that Kulygin should go home. He repeatedly tells her how much he loves her and how content and happy he is, but Masha talks about how bored she is. She also talks angrily about how much debt Andrei is in and how he’s allowing Natasha to control money and property that by rights should be controlled by Andrei and the sisters. Kulygin tells her it doesn’t really matter, talking about how he prefers a simple life.
Masha tells him justice is important to her and then tells him again to go away. He talks again about how much he loves Masha, repeating that he’s content, and goes. Irina talks with increasing emotion about how Andrei has changed because of Natasha. His dreams have disappeared, and the whole town is laughing behind his back because of the affair with Protopopov. He just sits in his room and plays violin while the whole town is out fighting the fire. As Olga comes in, Irina begins to weep, saying she can’t stand her life. She can’t remember anything of her Italian, and she says that they’ll never get to Moscow and that she hates her job.
She’s becoming unattractive and feels no satisfaction or happiness. She also talks about how she feels herself moving away from any kind of beautiful life and towards an abyss of unhappiness, saying she can’t understand why she hasn’t killed herself. Olga comforts her, suggesting that she marry Tusenbach and talking about h

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