Literature Study GuidesUncle VanyaAct 3 Sonyas Secret And Yelenas Offer Summary

Uncle Vanya | Study Guide

Anton Chekhov

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Uncle Vanya | Act 3, Sonya's Secret and Yelena's Offer | Summary



Shortly after noon, Yelena, Sonya, and Vanya talk in the living room while waiting for a meeting Serebryakov has called to start. Vanya thinks the meeting will be meaningless as Serebryakov "has nothing important to say." After Yelena expresses her boredom, Sonya suggests she help out with the housekeeping or teach or nurse the local children. Yelena demurs, as she thinks "people only teach and nurse peasant children in novels." Vanya advises Yelena to pursue something new: "You have a siren's blood in your veins ... let yourself be free!"

While Vanya goes outside to pick Yelena a bouquet of roses "as a token of peace and harmony," Yelena and Sonya talk about Sonya's love for Astrov and how painful it is for Sonya to see him when he seems oblivious to her. Yelena decides she will talk to him to find out his feelings for Sonya. If he is not interested in Sonya, then she will tell him he needs to stop visiting. Yelena promises to tell Sonya what he says, insisting she will tell the truth as she thinks it is "less terrifying than the unknown." After Sonya leaves to get Astrov, Yelena talks to herself. She knows the doctor is not in love with Sonya, and she is "a little attracted to him" herself. She imagines what it would be like if she pursued her attraction and let herself "be free" as Vanya urged her.


Unlike Astrov and Vanya, who announce their infatuation with Yelena, Sonya kept her feelings about Astrov to herself until she confided in Yelena. She accepts Yelena's offer to find out "the truth" about Astrov's feelings for her because she has been unable to elicit any positive response from Astrov himself. She has tried, though, by inviting him to stay for dinner, talking with him, and walking him to the door.

Yelena's talk with Astrov is to be a moment of truth for Sonya. She already believes Astrov lacks feelings for her, but she is unwilling to give up on him just yet and accepts this one last chance. Yelena's offer is full of deception. She tells Sonya knowing the truth is "less terrifying than the unknown," but she already knows Astrov doesn't love Sonya. She could let Sonya down gently by immediately telling her the truth, but instead she chooses to have a talk with Astrov. Her offer seems motivated by her own confusions, self-interest, and attraction to the doctor.

Sonya's suggestion that Yelena help out around the estate reveals the difference in their household roles. Sonya is always busy doing work, but Yelena never pitches in. Yelena considers herself superior to people who work. Although it is not yet revealed, there is a bigger distinction at play. Sonya is Yelena's stepdaughter, but she has the role of the "poor relative." She and Vanya have the burden of doing the practical labor for the household while Yelena can be idle and enjoy the benefits of it.

Yelena is bored with her current life, but she isn't interested in getting involved in activities to reduce her boredom. Instead she looks to men to take her away from her dreary existence. In Act 2 she described how she married Serebryakov because she thought he was important. In this act, she flirts with the idea of leaving her husband and letting herself "give in to the charms of" Astrov. She finds him appealing because he is "so different" and can elevate her from the mundane. When she sees him, "it's like seeing the full moon come out on a dark night."

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