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Three Sisters | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

Three Sisters opens one year after the death of the Prozorov patriarch. Captain Prozorov moved his family from Moscow to a quaint Russian village 11 years earlier during his service for the army. On the anniversary of his death, his three adult daughters contemplate their futures. Olga, 28, works as a schoolteacher, although she hates her job. Masha, 23, is disillusioned in her marriage to Kulygin and feels her artistic talents are wasted in her current surroundings. Irina, who at 20 is celebrating her name-day (the feast day of the saint whose name she shares), remains optimistic in her youth, desperately wishing to return to Moscow where she assumes she will meet the love of her life. The three sisters eagerly discuss their plans to return to Moscow and how much better life was for them there. In the village the sisters have little art, education, aspirations, or even socialization, save for the soldiers who live in a nearby battery. Unlike the lavish parties they threw in Moscow, Irina's celebration today will be attended only by a handful of those nearby soldiers. Guests begin arriving, including Chebutykin, an army doctor who has known the family for years. Also in attendance is the battery's new commanding officer, Vershinin, a dashing soldier who knew the Prozorov family in Moscow. Andrey, the brother, has invited his new girlfriend, Natasha. The sisters tease Andrey for his new love and Natasha for her "common" upbringing. The sisters all hope Natasha will marry the District Council head, Protopopov, but by the end of the act, Andrey has proposed.

Act 2

Act 2 flashes forward nearly two years. Andrey and Natasha are married with a little boy named Bobik (Bobby). Andrey has developed a gambling problem, and Natasha is hinted to be having an affair with Protopopov. Since marrying Andrey, Natasha has transformed from a shy young woman into a dominating one. She runs the house as if it were her own, ordering and manipulating everyone to get her way, including asking Olga to move into Irina's room so little Bobby can sleep more comfortably at night. The sisters had been planning a party for that evening, but Natasha cancels the entertainment claiming Bobby is sick. Romance brews as Masha and Vershinin find solace from their mutual unhappiness with each other. Likewise, Baron Tuzenbach, a lieutenant, declares his love for Irina, even leaving the army to take up civil work in the hopes of impressing her. Solyoni, a brutish captain, also declares his love for Irina, but she immediately rejects him. Embittered, Solyoni vows to kill anyone else who attempts to woo her.

Act 3

Irina and Olga huddle together in the middle of the night in the tiny room they now share. A fire alarm rings incessantly, and people frantically rush through the house with supplies to help the townsfolk affected by the fire. Natasha enters and viciously reprimands Anfisa, the ancient nurse who has served the Prozorov family for years, suggesting the old woman ought to be sent back to the countryside, highlighting her manipulations and usurpation of household power. Conversations reveal that Chebutykin has become an alcoholic, and Tuzenbach has left the army and taken up civilian work in the hopes of impressing Irina. Vershinin reveals no change in his unhappy existence: his wife continues to torment him and the children, leaving him to constantly philosophize on the meaning of life. Solyoni arrives and angrily pouts because the sisters have allowed Vershinin and Tuzenbach into their home at such a late hour but sent him away. He snaps that the army battery will be moving away from town anyway. When all their guests leave, Masha admits to her sisters she's having an affair with Vershinin, with whom she is desperately in love. This forces her to fight incessantly with Kulygin who continues to adore her. Irina worries desperately about her future. Her brother Andrey has mortgaged the house to pay his gambling debts, like Olga she is unhappy at work, and she fears she will never fall in love. She decides to accept Tuzenbach's marriage proposal, even though he is unattractive and she doesn't love him.

Act 4

Another year has passed. Natasha has had another baby, Sophia, but it's unclear whether Andrey or Protopopov is the father. The rumor of the battery leaving has turned out to be true. The sisters sit in their garden as the soldiers arrive to say goodbye. The wedding between Irina and Tuzenbach is imminent, but Irina remains depressed. Tuzenbach swears to be good to her and love her forever even if the feelings are never mutual. He doesn't tell her Solyoni has challenged him to a duel that afternoon, so it comes as a melancholy surprise when he dies. Irina doesn't mourn the loss, focusing instead on her career as a teacher, which will likely leave her a spinster. Vershinin arrives to say goodbye, and Masha must be pulled weeping from his arms. Kulygin unquestioningly comforts her despite knowing she loves another man. Drunk Chebutykin suggests life is meaningless, and Olga laments, "If only we could know, if only we could know!"

Three Sisters Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 The sisters discuss their love of Moscow.

Rising Action

2 Vershinin arrives and speaks of hope.

3 Natasha begins taking over control of the house.

4 Irina starts work but finds it unsatisfying.

5 Solyoni and Tuzenbach declare their love for Irina.

6 Masha admits her affair with Vershinin.

7 A fire destroys part of the neighborhood.

8 Olga and Natasha fight about Anfisa.

Climax

9 Andrey confronts his sisters.

Falling Action

10 The soldiers leave.

11 Solyoni kills Chebutykin.

Resolution

12 The sisters accept they will never return to Moscow.

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