The Three Sisters The Three Sisters, Anton Chekhov
by Anton Chekhov

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

The Three Sisters Anton Chekhov

The following entry presents criticism on Chekhov's Tri sestry (1901; The Three Sisters). See also Anton Chekhov Short Story Criticism, Anton Chekhov Drama Criticism, Gooseberries Criticism, and The Seagull Criticism.

Considered to be one of Chekhov's most moving and sensitive dramas, The Three Sisters reflects the pervasive pessimism of its era. The play tells the story of the three Prozorov sisters who despise their small-town life in Russia. Though the women pine for the glamour of Moscow where they previously lived, they refuse to do anything to change their unhappy lives. Chekhov used the Prozorov family as an analogy for the futility and despair experienced by Russians of that era. Since its initial production, The Three Sisters has been widely acclaimed for its subtle artistry and insight.

Plot and Major Characters

The Three Sisters examines the lives of the Prozorovs, a Russian family who live in a provincial garrison town far from Moscow. The three sisters, Masha, Olga, and Irina, all long to return to Moscow and spend their time bemoaning their humdrum lives. As the male head of the family after their father dies, their brother Andrey is thought to be their only hope for a secure future. But he spoils both his future and his sisters' by marrying Natasha, a greedy and vulgar woman who eventually forces the sisters to leave their own home. Rather than studying, Andrey spends his time gambling, while Masha, Irina, and Olga fail at jobs, marriage, and romance. At the end, as dreams are uniformly shattered, each sister ponders why life has brought them so much pain.

Major Themes

The Three Sisters, like Chekhov's plays of his later period, intertwines the mundane and the tragic. Chekhov focuses on the women's inability to be happy and their brother's staunch rejection of any promise in his life. But Chekhov is not above the use of humor to poke fun at the stubborn backwardness of his characters. The Three Sisters uses a subtle form of indirect action that, for Chekhov, mirrored real life. If reality is paced in a certain fashion, Chekhov reasoned, his plays should reflect that reality.

Critical Reception

In 1901 the Moscow Art Theater presented The Three Sisters. Early critics, especially Russian commentators, interpreted the play as yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of Russian landowners' demise. Other criticism focused on a perceived lack of storyline and dramatic conflict in the work. Scholars have consistently pointed to the careful construction of the play. While The Three Sisters may appear static in print, it is complicated to perform. Because The Three Sisters, like Chekhov's other dramas, called for a performance style that was less grandiose and more given to inflection and allusion, a flamboyant production could easily obscure the intention of Chekhov's work. Fortunately, the noted director Konstantin Stanislavski, who directed Three Sisters at the Moscow Art Theater, developed a psychological, introspective dramatic style appropriate to Chekhov's plays. In later years The Three Sister's depiction of futility has caused Chekhov to be considered a precursor to dramatists of the Theater of the Absurd.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Ivanov (drama) 1887

Leshy [The Wood Demon] (drama) 1889

Chayka [The Seagull] (drama) 1896

*Dyadya Vanya [Uncle Vanya] (drama) 1899

Tri sestry [The Three Sisters] (drama) 1901

Vishnevy sad [The Cherry Orchard] (drama) 1904

**Pyesa bez nazvaniya [That Worthless Fellow Platonov] (drama) 1923

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem A. P. Chekhova (dramas, short stories, notebooks, diaries, and letters) 1944-1951

The Oxford Chekhov. 9 vols. (dramas and short stories) 1964-1980

*This work is a revision of the earlier drama Leshy.

**This work was written in 1881.

Desmond MacCarthy (essay date 1920)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Three Sisters, in The New Statesman, Vol. 14, March 13, 1920, pp. 676-77.

[MacCarthy compares the characters and plot of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House to The Three Sisters and reviews an early production of The Three Sisters.]

“What does Bernard Shaw know about...

(The entire section is 80,043 words.)