Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Andrey Prozorov (ahn-DRAY proh-ZOH-rof), the son of a high-ranking Russian army officer. He studies to be a professor, but after his marriage he turns to gambling to forget his boorish wife, who takes a lover. He is an ineffective man who accomplishes nothing.
Natasha (nah-TAH-shuh), Andrey’s ill-bred, rude, and selfish wife. She takes a local official, Protopopov, as her lover.
Masha (MAH-shuh), one of Andrey’s sisters and the wife of Fyodor Kuligin. She once thought her husband clever, but she has been disillusioned. She falls in love with Vershinin, though he cannot leave his wife and children for her.
Fyodor Kuligin (FYOH-dohr KOO-lih-gihn), Masha’s husband. He is an ineffective man who teaches in a high school.
Olga Prozorov (OHL-y-guh), one of Andrey’s sisters. She wants desperately to return to Moscow. She teaches languages in the town’s high school and becomes headmistress, but she is unhappy with her lot.
Irina Prozorov (ihr-IHN-uh), one of Andrey’s sisters. Her hopes...
(The entire section is 320 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Three Sisters Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Irina is the youngest sister, not just in age but in her vibrant personality. Act I starts with Irina's twentieth birthday, with her feeling girlish and happy with the world. Having been raised in an aristocratic family, she idealizes work as the solution to all of life's problems, knowing that work can solve the great problem faced by characters in this play, that of living life with meaning. When Tuzenbach proposes to her in Act I, Irina changes the subject to work. A year later, in the Act II, Irina is exhausted from her work at the telegraph office, which is ruining her personality: she recalls an incident when she was impatient with a woman who was upset her son's death. Solyony professes his love to her, and threatens that no one else will have her, but she does not take him seriously. Like Olga, Irina longs to live in Moscow, but she is too young to remember what life was like there: instead, she dreams of it as an enchanted, magical place. Irina accepts Tuzenbach's proposal of marriage out of a sense of duty to her family. In the final act, she says a touching farewell to him, knowing that he will not survive the duel ("I knew, I knew ..." is her response later when the doctor brings news that he is dead). She still plans to go to Moscow, alone, and still dreams that work will set all of her troubles straight.
(The entire section is 246 words.)
Masha's marriage to Kulygin was not a joyful one from the beginning—"They married me when I was eighteen, and I was afraid of my husband because he was a teacher and I was barely out of school," she later explains. Masha is a talented pianist, but she does not play any more because she is bored and disappointed with her life. That changes when she meets Vershinin and begins an affair with him. As she later explains it to her sisters, "At first he seemed strange to me, then I felt sorry for him. . . then I fell in love with him." Masha is happy during her affair with Vershinin, laughing openly and frequently, even though she is frightened when he expresses his love. She is the most forthright and honest of the sisters, sometimes harshly so, lashing out angrily at others—the stage directions (angrily) and (sternly) appear often with Masha's lines. Her most moving speech comes in the third act when, having watched Natasha walk past with a candle and noted to her sisters "She walks like the one that started the fire," she quietly confesses her affair to Olga and Irina, as if, having seen Natasha take on the role of anger and suppression that she used to play, Masha wishes to talk about her new life and remind herself about being in love. In the end, when Vershinin leaves, Masha has a hard time, crying until she is able to raise her anger, refusing to go into the family house, which Natasha has taken over and spoiled.
(The entire section is 263 words.)
Olga is the oldest sister and the voice of rationality among the three of them. She is struggling to live up to the code of nobility that the family has traditionally followed and, therefore, struggling with life's changes. As a result, she is constantly weary. Unlike her sisters' sense of anticipation, Olga's dream of Moscow is nostalgic, looking back to when they lived there, not forward with anticipation. She thinks of their coming trip to Moscow, which the family left eleven years ago, as "going home." As the trip is delayed by uncertainty, Olga finds herself steeped in a sense of purposelessness. Throughout much of Act II she is offstage, in bed with headaches that appear closely related to her inability to cope with her life. In Act III, when resentments and desires are being discussed, Olga's dialog is marked by her efforts to avoid thinking. "How terrible it all is!" she says about the fire, "And how sick of it I am!" Her greatest emotion shows when Natasha is rude to Anfisa, the family's old servant: Natasha tries to win her favor by assuring her that she will one day be the school's headmistress, but Olga, says that she would not accept such a position: "I'm not strong enough... .You were so rude to nurse just now. Forgive me, I just haven't the strength to bear it... It's all getting black before my eyes..." By the end of the play, though, Olga has gathered her strength. She expresses hope in the play's last speech:...
(The entire section is 302 words.)
The old governess who has been with the Prozorov family for thirty years, Anfisa is worried that she will be turned out on her own in her old age. Her concerns are justified—while the Prozorov sisters care enough about tradition and sentiment to laugh at the idea of abandoning Anfisa, Natasha is adamant that the old woman is a drain on the household funds, and it is Natasha who is taking over the running the house. In the end, when everyone is going their separate ways, it is only Anfisa who seems happy about the future—she is to live in a government apartment with one of her girls, Olga, and she asks nothing more of life.
Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin
An old friend of the sisters, a military doctor, a failure, an alcoholic who laments the patients of his who have died. He lives in the basement of the house. In the first scene, he brings a silver samovar to Irina's birthday party: the silver samovar is traditionally a wedding present, indicating that Chebutykin is either confused or trying to send a signal. His most important scene occurs when he drops he clock in Act III, smashing it. The sisters are horrified because the clock had belonged to their mother, the woman Chebutykin loved, but he tries to cover up his mistake by turning philosophical, discussing whether the clock actually existed or not, and when that doesn't work he blurts out the commonly-known secret of Natasha's affair with Protopopov...
(The entire section is 1688 words.)