The Three Sisters

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Originally from Moscow, the three sisters moved years before to a provincial town with their now dead father. Olga, the eldest, is a teacher in the local school; Masha is married to a man whom she once thought clever, but now realizes is foolish. Young Irina dreams of great things. All of them long to return to Moscow.

The sisters pin their hopes on their brother Andrey, but he falls under the spell of Natasha, a vulgar local girl. Masha, a woman of deep emotions, falls in love with the handsome Vershinin, the new battery commander of the local brigade. It becomes evident that they all are becoming increasingly trapped in this hated town.

Olga is promoted to the job of headmistress at the school and Irina gets a job in the telegraph office. Andrey loses all ambition and Natasha takes over the household, dominating everyone in the family and driving away old friends and servants. Although the sisters still dream of escape to Moscow, in their hearts they know that escape is impossible.

While many of the characters in the play are weak-willed or foolish, they remain sympathetic. Each character struggles desperately to cling to a dream, a vision, some remnant of beauty. Although Vershinin and Masha are separated by his neurotic wife and her ridiculous husband, their frustrated love is both poignant and beautiful. The sisters are generous, even in adversity; they believe in the importance of hope, even when there seems to be little...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Provincial town

Provincial town. The drabness of life in provincial Russia grates on the three Prozòrov sisters. Compelled to find some kind of happiness in life, Chekhov’s characters settle for professions and marriages that seem to provide some comfort against the tediousness of life, but which ultimately result in despair. Andrey’s marriage to Natasha threatens the position of his sisters within the household, and eventually the household itself, when Andrey mortgages the property at Natasha’s request.

Prozòrov house

Prozòrov house. Large provincial house left to the Prozòrov children by their father. The house is their birthright as well as the only possession of value that might provide the means of returning to Moscow. Natasha’s marriage to Andrey relegates the sisters to the position of guests in their own home, effectively eliminating any chance of selling the house for their return to Moscow. Once a symbol of hope for the sisters, the Prozòrov house becomes another anchor that keeps the sisters in the provinces.


Garden. As in many of Chekhov’s plays, a garden serves an important function in The Three Sisters by illustrating how simple and beautiful life should be. Baron Tusenbach articulates this idea just prior to his death in a duel with Solyony in the final act of the play. “What beautiful trees they are!” he says, “And how beautiful the life around them ought to be.”

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Social Order
Traditionally, Russia had been a society with a rigid class system. From the seventeenth century through...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The setting of this play is given as "a provincial city." Describing it this way, Chekhov takes the middle...

(The entire section is 816 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1901: The first trans-Atlantic telegraph message was sent from England to Newfoundland, where Guglielmo Marconi received it....

(The entire section is 202 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

In his letters, Chekhov said that he had the city of Perm in mind as a model for the type of provincial city where this drama takes place....

(The entire section is 265 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Members of New York's Actor's Studio, including Shelley Winters, Sandy Dennis, and Geraldine Page, are in a video edition of the play, filmed...

(The entire section is 61 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Chekhov's thoughts as he was writing this play, and the considerations that came up while it was in production, are discussed in his letters....

(The entire section is 316 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Bruford, W. H., Chekhov and His Russia: A Sociological Study, Archon Books, 1971.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Barricelli, Jean-Pierre, ed. Chekhov’s Great Plays: A Critical Anthology. New York: New York University Press, 1981. An excellent collection of critical essays, of which four directly pertain to the play. One deals with the love theme, another discusses Vershinin, the third analyzes cyclical patterns and triads, and the fourth compares the women characters of the four major plays.

Clyman, Toby W., ed. A Chekhov Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. An eclectic work examining many aspects of the plays and stories. Specific essays focus on Chekhov’s craftsmanship, his impact in the theater, and performance on stage...

(The entire section is 239 words.)