Mariya Vasilyevna Voynitskaya
If you've heard one mother-in-law joke, you've heard them all, but Mariya is the exception to the rule. She's crazy about her son-in-law Serebryakov (her late daughter's husband) and actually seems to prefer him to her own son, Ivan.
Mariya is an old woman, and everyone pretty much ignores her. Ivan shuts her up when she gets going about her favorite political issues:
MARIYA VASILYEVNA: But I want to talk!
VOYNITSKY: You've been talking now for fifty years, talking and reading pamphlets. Time to stop. (1.211-13)
What a way to talk to your mother. We think that Vanya should probably be grounded for this, but Mariya just goes about her business, ignoring her grouchy, rude son. His irritation, of course, stems from the jealousy he feels about Serebryakov.
And we can feel Vanya on that one. When Serebryakov announces that he'd like to sell the estate out from under everybody, Mariya just goes along with it. She tells her son Vanya:
MARIYA VASILYEVNA: Jean, don't contradict Aleksandr. Believe me, he knows what's good and what's bad for us better than we do. (3.370-71)
Wowser. These are pretty big words from a lady who's apparently been into politics and changing the world for fifty years. Why would a supposedly radical lady be okay with giving complete control over her life to someone else, especially someone who has many more priorities (like himself, his new wife, and his daughter)? Beats us.
It just goes to show that even a character who says she's totally interested in change would really prefer to have someone else do all the thinking and all the work for her. Mariya, like the rest of the characters in the play, seems to be happy keeping the status quo, even if it means turning a blind eye to bad decisions.