Study Guide

The Three Sisters Quotes

  • Dissatisfaction

    Tuzenbach: I would have left a woman like that a long time ago, but he just hangs on and complains about her. (1.18)

    Tuzenbach is practical; Vershinin is romantic. This explains the discrepancy in women's attraction to them—and also, perhaps, in their own views on marriage.

    Vershinin: Yes, when they called me the lovesick major, I was young and I was in love. Now I'm not. (1.88) 

    Vershinin is very forward with the sisters about his marital misery. Might he already have his eye on Masha at this point? Or is he just commenting on the blight of love passing with time?

    Chebutykin: You just said, Baron, that people in the future will think of our life as a high point, but people nowadays are still pretty low. (Stands up.) Look how low I am. But of course you make me feel better by calling my life a high point. (1.113)

    Chebutykin dismisses the baron's idealism with a joke about his height. The doctor may act tough, but his recurring alcoholism and sad little quips like this indicate that he's just as dissatisfied as the others.

    Andrey: Were you ever in Moscow?
    Ferapont: Nope. Things didn't work out that way. (2.28-29)

    The old servants Ferapont and Anfisa have the lowest expectations of life—and, yet, the highest satisfaction. Things didn't work out, but why complain about it? They worked out another way!

    Masha: Either you know the reason you're alive, or nothing makes any difference. (2.84)

    Complete understanding of the universe (does it have to do with #42?), or no happiness at all? That's a tall order, Masha.

    Vershinin: We can never be happy. We only want to be happy. (2.112)

    Pretty much a philosophical staple in Chekhov: human beings are just masses of perpetual longing.

    Tuzenbach: You're sad, you're unhappy with life—oh, come away with me, let's go off and work together. (3.79)

    Under Tuzenbach's influence, Irina begins to reformulate (and significantly scale back) her expectations for the future and eventually consents to follow his plan. After his death, she has to change her plans again. Life in a Chekhov play is constant readjustment.

    Masha: When you only get your happiness in bits and pieces and then lose it anyway, like me, you begin to get bitter about it. You don't care what you say anymore. (Touches her breast.) I'm full of anger inside. (4.59)

    Masha has lost her lover, Vershinin, and faces a lifetime of boredom with her husband, Kulygin. It's kind of interesting to think about Natasha through a similar lens. Though maybe Chekhov wouldn't portray her as thinking quite so hard about it.

    Irina: I've never been in love. I used to dream about love, I used to dream about it all the time, but now my soul is like a piano that's locked up and the key's lost. (4.97)

    Poor Irina. She focuses all of her hopes on love and on fulfilling work—and finds neither of them by the end of the play.

    Andrey: We barely begin to live, and all of a sudden we're old and boring and lazy and useless, and unhappy. (4.110)

    It seems like a Prozorov family trend is having difficulty setting and reaching goals. Or maybe they just have bad luck.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Irina: Brother of course will be a scientist; he certainly can't go on living here. (1.10)

    As the only brother in the family, Andrey carries the burden of all their hopes for family success. That was the way it broke down gender-wise in the late nineteenth century.

    Irina: Why do I feel so happy today! I feel as if I had sails flying in the wind, and the sky over me was bright blue and full of white birds. (1.23)

    With these images of freedom in her mind—sails, blue sky, birds (symbolism alert!)—Irina wakes up full of hope on her birthday. This is about as dreamy as dreams can get.

    Vershinin: In two or three hundred years, life on earth will be unimaginably beautiful, astonishing. (1.143)

    Vershinin doesn't have many illusions about happiness in his own life, but holds out hope for generations to come. In The Cherry Orchard, Trofimov has a very similar speech. What's Chekhov telling us about the present day if we've gotta wait 200 years for things to get better?

    Andrey: Me, I'm a member of the local County Council, and every night I dream I'm a professor at the University of Moscow, a famous scientist, the pride of Russia! (2.20)

    Poor Andrey. All his ambitions are thwarted by settling down with the wrong girl.

    Irina: I've got to find another job; this one is all wrong for me. Whatever it was that I wanted or was dreaming of, this is definitely not it. It's work, but there's no poetry in it, no meaning in it… (2.58)

    Reality smacks Irina in the face once she starts working. The telegraph office is not even close to the noble, soul-feeding place she imagined in Act I. We understand—it'd be hard to find satisfaction working with the nineteenth-century version of tweets. It's just less fun without the hashtags.

    Irina: (Alone, longing). I want to go to Moscow! Moscow! Moscow! (2.224)

    Having discovered that work isn't all it's cracked up to be, Irina fixates almost hopelessly on Moscow instead. This is the pipe dream they all cling to throughout the play.

    Irina: I kept waiting for us to move to Moscow. I knew I'd meet my true love there; I used to dream about him. But it was all a lot of nonsense. (3.103)

    Romantic by nature, Irina has been holding out for a fairy tale. But there are no princes in shining armor in her little town—only barons in brick factory uniforms.

    Irina: The baron and I are getting married tomorrow, and then we go away to the brick factory, and the day after, I start teaching, and that's when our new life begins. (4.40)

    The eternal optimist is about to get schooled by life (again).

    Chebutykin: I'll stay right here, left behind like a migrating bird that's too old to fly. You fly, sweetheart, you fly! (4.42)

    Chekhov's kind of into bird metaphors. You've heard of a little play called The Seagull? Here, at least, we see the doc having hopes for someone—even if those, too, come to nothing.

  • Isolation

    Masha: When Father was alive we used to have thirty or forty officers at our birthday parties—it was noisy and fun. Today there's only a man and a half and it's dull as a desert. I'm leaving. (1.43)

    Without sufficient opportunities to socialize, the sisters are bored and miserable. Small towns can be tough on city girls. What does half a man look like in Russia, we wonder?

    Chebutykin: My dears, my little girls, you are all I have, you are dearer to me than anything else in the world. (1.64)

    Chebutykin is just a family friend, but he has become a part of the family. It could sound a little creepy, but he's really just a father figure for the ladies.

    Vershinin: Life here must be very good. But it's funny, the nearest railroad station is eighteen miles away. And nobody seems to know why. (1.97)

    A nice detail: the inaccessibility of transportation makes escape more difficult for the sisters, and fun less likely to come a-calling.

    Vershinin: All right, let's agree that this town is backward and vulgar, and let's suppose now that out of all its thousands of inhabitants there are only three people like you. Of course you won't be able to overcome the unenlightened mass that surrounds you… (1.143)

    Vershinin is a real big-picture thinker. He doesn't get upset about the backwardness of the town because he's focusing on 200 years from then. And here, he throws a bit of shade at the sisters for taking on a holier-than-thou attitude all the time.

    Kulygin: This little book contains the names of all those who have graduated from our high school over the last fifty years. (1.150)

    Ugh. So boring! Kulygin's gift to Irina indicates how isolated and provincial this town is. It's like someone giving you the phone book for Back Swamp, North Carolina and saying you're welcome.

    Ferapont: I dunno… Can't hear too well.
    Andrey: If you could hear, I wouldn't be telling you all this. I have to talk to someone. My wife doesn't understand me; I'm afraid of my sisters, I don't know why. (2.22)

    Andrey doesn't just complain about being marooned in a podunk town. His isolation is all emotional and since he feels that he has no one to turn to, he tells his troubles to the deaf servant.

    Andrey: In Moscow you can sit in a restaurant full of people, and nobody knows you and you don't know anybody, but still you don't feel like a stranger. In this town you know everybody and everybody knows you, but you're always a stranger…A stranger, and alone. (2.24)

    That's pretty dismal. And it gets worse: when Natasha enters the picture, Andrey even becomes a stranger to his sisters, heightening his sensation of isolation.

    Chebutykin: No matter how you rationalize it, my boy, loneliness is an awful business. (2.181)

    The old bachelor complains of his loneliness, but we can't see him wanting it any other way. He's the one who's the most resigned to the way things are, even if it's not always fun to be lonely.

    Irina: [Andrey's] finally become a member of the County Council. He's a member, and Protopopov is the chairman… The whole town is talking and laughing, and he's the only one who doesn't know anything, doesn't see anything. Tonight everybody went to see the fire, but not him. He just sits in his room and pays no attention to anything; he just plays his violin. (3.97)

    Detached from everyone around him, Andrey seems clinically depressed. Plus, he's ignorant about (or at least ignoring) his wife's affair with Protopopov, his superior and the chairman of the County Council. It's pretty embarrassing, and definitely enough to be depressed about.

    Irina: The brigade is leaving. They're being transferred someplace far away…We'll be left here all alone. (3.127-9)

    The military only provided a little entertainment, but its departure feels like a death sentence for the sisters.

  • Love

    Tuzenbach: Our new commanding officer is coming to pay you a visit today. Colonel Vershinin.
    Olga: Really? We'd be delighted.
    Irina: Is he old? (1.13-15)

    It seems like Irina is primed to fall in love. She's asking about the age of this new guy to see if he's a potential suitor. What's next—does he look like Brad Pitt?

    Kulygin: Masha loves me. My wife loves me. (1.158)

    A little self-delusion goes a long way. That's part of what keeps Kulygin one of the most contented characters in the play.

    Andrey: Darling, you're so sweet and so ordinary…I want you to marry me! I love you, I love you…I've never loved anybody before. (1.223)

    Now that's a proposal to swoon over. We just fall head-over-heels when someone calls us "ordinary," don't you? Anyway—it's actually Natasha's ordinariness that turns Andrey against her as the play progresses. And we wonder if the fact that he never loved anyone before may have something to do with his not really knowing what love is, until he finds out what it isn't.

    Natasha: This morning the baby woke up and looked at me, and all of a sudden he smiled and I just know he recognized me. (2.9)

    Natasha is a symbol of simple family love in the play. This would be a nice scene of mom-kid bonding if we didn't think Natasha was generally full of, um, non-sympathetic feelings.

    Chebutykin: I can't do without you. (2.71)

    Chebutykin is obsessed with Irina in a half-romantic, half-fatherly-I-was-in-love-with-your-mother-and-you-look-just-like-her kind of way. It's weird, but sort of cute in a way.

    Solyony: I can't live without you. (Goes up to her.) You're divine! What happiness! You have wonderful eyes, brilliant, disturbing eyes. (2.198)

    Another person who can't live without Irina. This time, though, it sort of is creepy. And take note: most of the love speeches in Three Sisters have something to say about the eyes. The window to the soul, we hear.

    Tuzenbach: Oh, if only I could sacrifice my life for you! (3.80)

    Good grief, another love speech for Irina. And also, alas, a little bit of foreshadowing here. This is in Act III, when Tuzenbach tries to wear Irina down with his gentlemanly devotion—before either of them realizes he will ultimately sacrifice his life for her in his duel with Solyony (the creeper from the love speech in Quote #6).

    Masha: My dear sisters, I want to confess something… I'm in love, I'm in love… I love that man, the one you saw just now… Well, that's it: I love Vershinin. (3.107)

    Do you think Olga and Irina knew about this affair before Masha confessed it? People are pretty good at figuring out each other's business in this play, after all…

    Kulygin: You're my wife, and I'm happy, no matter what happened… Let's start life over again just the way it was before. I'll never say a single word about this, never… (4.142)

    Just after Vershinin's departure, Masha's in pieces. Sure, Kulygin's an annoying dude—but the acceptance and devotion he expresses here bring us back over to his side. He wants to keep up appearances to cover over the affair, but there's plenty of real emotion mixed in there, too.

  • Marriage

    Olga: Well, that's all right, it's God's will, but sometimes I think if I'd gotten married and could stay home all day long, that would be better somehow. (Pause) I would have loved my husband. (1.12)

    Well, Olga, who knows if you would have. Masha doesn't. Irina's not planning on loving hers (until he dies, anyway). Most of the characters express regret, with varying degrees of self-pity, when it comes to marriage—whether they've got it or not.

    Masha: I heard someone saying yesterday she's supposed to marry Protopopov, the chairman of the County Council, and I certainly hope she does. (1.19)

    Perhaps the sisters' opposition to Natasha is part of what drives Andrey to fall in love with and propose to her. Also, we see the seeds of the Protopopov affair way early, before Andrey even proposes.

    Vershinin: I have wife and two little girls, and my wife is not a well woman, and what with one thing and another, if I could start life over again, believe me, I certainly wouldn't get married. (1.149)

    It's true: marriage is an unappealing prospect in this play. On the other hand, the alternatives lived out by Chebutykin and Olga are not so thrilling, either. Could this be saying that turn-of-the-century-Russia just wasn't that fun a place?

    Kulygin: Masha, we're going to the headmaster's this afternoon at four. There's an outing for the teachers and their families. (1.158)

    Masha is particularly miffed by Kulygin's control of her time, and bored to tears by his teacher buds. Though, frankly, she seems to do pretty much what she wants, when she wants.

    Natasha: Andy, how come you never talk to me?
    Andrey: Nothing; I was just thinking…What is there to say? (2.11-12)

    Only two years into their marriage, Natasha and Andrey are already presenting an unappealing picture of the institution. Like Masha and Kulygin, they just can't communicate.

    Masha: I got married when I was eighteen, and I was afraid of my husband because he was a teacher, and I was barely out of school. I used to think he was terribly wise, intelligent, and important. Now I've changed my mind. Unfortunately… (2.31)

    Masha wants Moscow-level intellectual stimulation from her husband, and is bitterly disappointed by Kulygin. Guess that sets the scene for Vershinin…

    Vershinin: We started fighting at seven this morning, and at nine I slammed the door and left. (2.40)

    How much of Masha and Vershinin's mutual attraction stems from commiserating over their unsatisfactory marriages? Great foundation for a relationship, if you ask us…

    Masha: The main thing is not to let Natasha find out he's lost all that money.
    Irina: I don't think she even cares. (2.61-2)

    Natasha and Andrey are recently married—Bobik's only a baby—but they've already drifted far apart.

    Andrey: Nobody should get married. It's boring. (2.180)

    Well, there you have it. Boredom is poison for the Prozorov family, which may explain why they're so bad at marriage.

    Natasha: We should help out the poor anyway; that's one of your responsibilities if you're rich. (3.14)

    Aha. So that's why Natasha married Andrey, even though she's still smitten with her former suitor Protopopov. Andrey raises her rank.

    Olga: Dearest, let me talk to you, as your sister, as a friend. If you want my advice, marry the baron…People don't marry for love, they marry because they're supposed to. (3.102)

    When it comes to marriage, the moral of the story in Three Sisters is clearly "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

    Andrey: When I got married, I thought that we'd all live happily together…happily…But oh, my God… (Starts to cry). (3.123)

    The crisis of the fire forces Andrey to finally be honest with his sisters. He sees the error of his misguided marriage to Natasha, and realizes it's driven him away from his own family, too.

    Andrey: I love Natasha, you know that, but sometimes she disgusts me so much I get sick to my stomach, and I can't understand what it was…why I love her. Or why I used to. (4.77)

    Whoa. Love tempered by disgust is pretty serious. Here, Andrey is frank with Chebutykin, who advises him to hightail it out of there.

  • Time

    Olga: It's a year ago today that Father died, May fifth, on your birthday, Irina… (The clock strikes noon.) And the clock struck that morning just the same way. (1.1)

    This first line of the play—with the prominent symbol of the clock—establishes the passage of time as a major force in The Three Sisters. And we can see some pretty deep nostalgia right off the bat, too: they're starting by talking about their father dying, so clearly there have been some unsatisfactory changes in this past year.

    Olga: Father got his command eleven years ago, and we left Moscow and came here. It was the beginning of May then too… (1.3)

    There's always a timekeeper in the family, one who remembers exactly when everything of importance happened. Thanks a bunch, Olga.

    Masha: You didn't have a mustache then…Oh, you've gotten old… (Almost in tears) You've gotten so old! (1.87)

    Masha is momentarily unnerved by how much time has changed Vershinin. But after hearing him talk for a while, she finds new depths of attraction.

    Masha: It's funny: I'm beginning to forget what she looked like. The same thing will happen to us. No one will remember us. (1.105)

    Masha is talking about her dead mother and suddenly realizes the meaninglessness of her existence.

    Tuzenbach: You're twenty years old, I'm not thirty yet. Think how much time we've got ahead of us, days and days, all of them full of my love for you. (1.183)

    Tuzenbach is characteristically optimistic in his view of time. To him, time is something to be valued and enjoyed, not rued for passing too quickly. As far as this play goes, he's pretty much alone in this optimistic view.

    Vershinin: The longer I live, the more I want to know. My hair is turning gray, I'm almost an old man, and I know so little—so little! (2.78)

    Vershinin's acknowledgement of his own ignorance—even at his advanced age—is the opposite of Kulygin's Latin-fringed bragging.

    Vershinin: Still, it's too bad youth doesn't last…

    Not always the soul of philosophical brilliance Masha takes him to be, Vershinin states the obvious.

    Masha: You're sixty years old, and all you do is talk a lot of goddamn nonsense, just like some kid! (2.129)

    Chebutykin is a petrified old bachelor, an example of someone who has made decisions to please only himself. He doesn't end up much happier than the others.

    Olga: I think I've aged ten years tonight. (3.31)

    Olga often associates thoughts of aging with the stressors in her life: her students, her family, the fire.

    Irina: I'm almost twenty-four, I've been working all this time, and my brain has shriveled up; I've lost my looks, I've gotten old, and nothing, nothing!…I don't understand why I'm still alive. I should have killed myself long ago. (3.99)

    OK, so Irina's being a little dramatic. But time really has slipped through her fingers since her hopeful, excited entrance at the top of Act I. Frowny face.

  • Society and Class

    Irina: How wonderful it must be to get up at dawn and pave streets, or be a shepherd, or a schoolteacher who teaches children, or work on a railroad. (1.25)

    Ah, the upper class romanticizing the noble lives of working people. Classic.

    Tuzenbach: I remember when I got home from military school there was always a servant to take my boots off. (1.29)

    Like Irina, Tuzenbach wants to be useful to the world. But he reminisces about what it was like to have servants around—even the ones who were just there to smell your feet.

    Irina: [Andrey is] the family intellectual. He'll probably be a scientist. Papa was in the service, but his son has decided on a scientific career. (1.115)

    Andrey's ability to pursue a career in something like science, which was less "practical" financially than being in the army, indicates his family's wealth. Not to mention his mastery of the violin—couldn't get much bougier than that in those days.

    Masha: But her clothes! It's not just that they're ugly, or out of style; they're absolutely pitiful. She'll wear a funny yellow skirt with some awful fringe, and a red blouse. And those little pink cheeks, always scrubbed clean, clean, clean! (1.119)

    Masha's description of Natasha's appearance brims with many indications of her lack of class and taste. Come on Masha: don't be shady, be a lady.

    Natasha: Tonight's carnival; the maid's all in a tizzy. You got to keep your eyes on them so nothing happens. (2.3)

    Since her marriage to Andrey, Natasha enjoys exerting her superiority over the help. So much for the fashion-less chit from the act before.

    Masha: Most of the people in this town are so vulgar, so unpleasant, so stupid. Vulgarity upsets me, it wounds me; I get physically sick when I see someone who lacks finesse, who lacks kindness and gentleness. (2.33)

    The sisters' delicacy stems from their cultured upbringing in Moscow and troubles them in the countryside. And being physically sick is quite a high level of trouble, if you ask us. Probably how celebrities feel when they're forced to do charity events with normal people.

    Vershinin: The other day I was reading the diary of that French politician, the one who went to prison because of the Panama scandal. (2.111)

    Education is a given for people of a certain class. Vershinin's intellectual curiosity is the primary attractor for Masha. And reading memoirs of French politicians just for fun is about as intellectually curious as it gets.

    Natasha: Masha dear, why do you always use language like that! You have a very attractive personality, and I'm sure you could make a real nice impression on social occasions, I'll tell you quite frankly, if it weren't for those vulgar words of yours. Je vous pries, pardonnez-moi, Marie, mais vous avez des manieres un peu grossieres. (2.130)

    Natasha's all uppity since her marriage to Andrey. As you probably guessed, her French is a joke on her—without her knowledge, of course. She says, "Excuse me, Masha, but your manners are a bit unrefined." Look who's talking, we might add!

    Tuzenbach: They've been after me to organize a benefit concert for the people who were burned out. (3.45)

    In this culture, nobility carries with it an assumption that they must help the less fortunate. At least that's nicer than dissing them for their lack of fashion sense.

    Kulygin: But you have to remember that our headmaster has rather particular views. (3.53)

    Kulygin's concerned it might be inappropriate for Masha to play piano in public—she's a woman, after all. It's this provincial small-mindedness that drives her crazy.

  • Women and Femininity

    Olga: You do look lovely today—you seem really beautiful. And Masha is beautiful too. (1.12)

    The women's beauty matters in this society. It affects their romantic opportunities and, therefore, their stability.

    Solyony: When a man talks philosophy you get philosophy, or at least sophistry, but when a woman talks philosophy, or two women, all you get is wee, wee, wee, all the way home. (1.46)

    Whoa dude. That's not the best way to make yourself very popular in a house run by women.

    Vershinin: I don't remember you individually; all I remember is that there were three of you. Three sisters. (1.79)

    The title of the play comes from Vershinin's line. And it's a little unfair how it blends the three of them together, but just wait—he'll figure out how to tell them apart once he starts having an affair with one of them.

    Irina: Masha, what's the matter? Don't cry—you're so silly. (Almost in tears.) You'll make me start. (1.91)

    Crying is contagious for these sisters. How's that for a comment on being ladylike?

    Olga: (Coming into the living room.) Well, if it isn't Natalya Ivanovna. How are you, my sweet? (They exchange kisses.)

    Chekhov makes gentle fun of women's tendency to be very, very friendly to women they don't like.

    Vershinin: You're a strange, wonderful woman. Strange and wonderful. I can see your eyes shining in the dark. (2.44)

    Vershinin is attracted by Masha's mystery and contradictions. There's another sweeping generalization of femininity for you.

    Natasha: Oh I know what you think—I'm just his mother—but it's more than that, believe you me. He's an extraordinary child. (2.38)

    Natasha is the only mother in the play—and isn't portrayed very sympathetically. Of course it's not just her seeing her only child as the most amazing baby in the entire world.

    Olga: (Taking a dress out of the closet) Nana, take that gray one…and that one too…and the blouse too…and take this skirt, Nana. (3.2)

    In her industry, after the fire, Olga is a model of feminine strength. Being giving may be a stereotype of women, but Olga's charity outstrips them all.

    Natasha: (To Irina): Sweetie, that belt doesn't do a thing for you. Not a thing. You need something more stylish, something with a little color in it… (4.148)

    Natasha clearly hasn't forgotten Irina's slight about her belt, even though it happened many, many years prior. Now in possession of the house, she feels powerful and superior, decreeing bad fashion sense for all.

    (The three sisters stand close to one another.) (4.174)

    Such a simple, sweet stage direction. Throughout the play, the one constant has been the sisters' bond.