Like many of the characters in this play, Arkadina's personality is primarily shaped by her profession. She's an Actress with a capital A. (She's also a Diva with a capital D.) She's famous and successful, but her hunger for even more praise and attention is bottomless. She needs to be the center of attention at all times and is hilariously vain.
Just check out this display at the top of Act 2:
Arkadina: (To Masha) Here. Stand up a minute. (Both women stand.)
Over here, right next to me. You're… what? Twenty-two? And I'm almost twice your age. Doctor, which one of us looks younger?
Dorn: You do… of course.
Arkadina: There. You see? And why? Because I work all the time, I live life to the fullest, I'm constantly on the go… I take care of my appearance. I am always tailored, always fit. (2.1-5)
And, of course, the woman goes on for a little while. Wouldn't you love it if you walked in on your mom pulling this number?
Arkadina is in her forties and conservative in her tastes. She doesn't understand Konstantin's writing and, in her self-absorption, can only assume it's a personal affront to her. You expect moms to beam proudly at the creations of their kids; not Arkadina. She's really rude. She mocks his theatrical innovations—loudly, and in front of anyone. When he runs out screaming, she complains to the others:
"He arranged all this, that foul smell, not as a joke, but as an attack on me! He wants to teach us how to write and how to act." (1.112)
Arkadina is not Mother Of The Year material. She's almost compulsively cruel to Konstantin. She seems to have no impulse control. Like a spoiled child, she lashes out, regrets it, and apologizes, then lashes out again. Yeah. She's not quite Mommy Dearest… but she's close.
While she's extremely capable of shrewd and controlled behavior with Trigorin, with Konstantin she lets it all hang out. The ugliest confrontation is in Act 3, just after she changes the bandages from his gun wound. There's a pretty aww-inducing sweet moment between them, a tender moment of nostalgia for Konstantin's growing up. (Some critics suggest this bandage scene references the sexually-charged closet scene between Hamlet and his mother Gertrude. See more under "Symbols.")
Everything's nice n' intimate until Konstantin brings up Trigorin. That's a hot button issue, and sure enough, the argument escalates into name-calling.
"Get away from me!" screams Arkadina,
"You wouldn't even know how to begin to write a third-rate play! You're from Kiev! You're from Kiev and you're middle class! You sponge!" (3.76)
Do sponges come from Kiev? We thought that the sponge capital of the world was Tarpan Springs, Florida. You learn a new thing every day?
A funny (funny weird, definitely not funny ha-ha) character detail about Arkadina is her complete refusal to share her money. Unlike The Cherry Orchard's Ranevskaya—a related character who is also aristocratic, vivacious, and middle-aged—Arkadina is a total cheapskate.
She tips her servants one ruble to split between them. She makes fun of her son's bourgeois background but won't help him out. Why? Because keeping him poor helps keep him depressed, which seems to stand in the way of his work. There's no danger of him becoming more successful than she is. Um, what? Besides, she tells Sorin, she needs her income:
"All right, I do have a little money, but I'm an actress! My clothes alone are enough to ruin me!" (3.45)
Maybe spend a little less on clothes and a little more on your son? Maybe? Just a thought. You witch.