The action takes place in one of the counties of the central strip of Russia. Nikolai Alekseyevich Ivanov, a landowner, sits in his garden and reads a book. Misha Borkin, his distant relative and the manager of his estate, drunkenly returns from the hunt. Seeing Ivanov, takes aim at him with a gun, laughs at his joke, continues to pester him, demands to give money to pay workers. There is no money for Ivanov, he asks to leave him alone.
Appearing in the window of the house, his wife Anna Petrovna is playfully: “Nikolay, let’s tumble on the hay!” Ivanov annoyedly responds that it is harmful to stand in a draft, and advises closing the window. Borkin recalls that there is still a payment of interest on debt to Lebedev. Ivanov is going to go to Lebedev to ask for a postponement. Borkin recalls that today is the birthday of Sasha’s daughter Lebedev. He gives Ivanov a lot of advice, how you can get a lot of money – one more adventurous than another.
Uncle Ivanov is shown the old Count Shabelsky and Lvov, a young doctor. Shabelsky, as usual, grumbles. Lviv is serious: Anna Petrovna consumes, she needs peace, and she is constantly worried about the changed attitude of her husband to her. Lvov reproaches Ivanov for the fact that his behavior kills the patient. Ivanov confesses to the doctor that he himself can not understand himself, the change that has taken place with him. He married by passionate love, and his future wife, a Jew, nee Sarah
Lvov confession of Ivanov seems hypocritical; left alone, he calls that Tartuffe, a fraud: oh, he knows why Ivanov goes to Lebedev every evening. Shabelsky and Anna Petrovna ask the departing Ivanov not to leave them, take them with them. Count annoyed Ivanov agrees to take. The wife confesses that at home it is excruciatingly painful for him, longing – why, he does not know himself, and asks not to keep him. In vain she tries to caress, reminds him how well they used to live before. Ivanov and her uncle leave, sad Anna Petrovna remains. But when the doctor tries to condemn her husband, she hotly intercedes for him. After all, the doctor did not know Ivanov the former: this is a wonderful, strong man who could carry away and lead away.
Unable to withstand loneliness, she, too, is going to go to where Ivanov is now.
Hall in the house of the Lebedevs, on the name day of Sasha guests gathered. The hostess of the house Zinaida Savvishna from the stinginess of the food offers only “a jug of jam”, old man Lebedev often calls a footman with a glass of vodka. They play cards, conduct empty conversations, gossip about Ivanov: he supposedly married his Jewish woman out of greed, but he did not get a penny, that’s why he is unhappy now and “became furious.” One Sasha hotly objects to slander: Ivanova’s only fault, she says, is that he has a weak character and that he believes people too much.
Appears Ivanov with Shabelsky, then noisy Borkin with fireworks and Bengal lights. When everyone leaves for the garden, Ivanov, continuing the conversation with Sasha, confesses to her: “My conscience is hurting day and night, but I do not understand what my fault is, in fact, my wife’s illness, lack of money, eternal gnawing, gossip I’m dying of shame at the thought that I, a healthy, strong person, turned either to Hamlet, or to Manfred, or to unnecessary people. This upsets my pride, shame oppresses me, and I suffer.. “Sasha is sure that she understands Ivanov. He is lonely, he needs a man whom he would love and who would understand him. Only love can renew it. Ivanov grins sadly: he lacks only to start a new novel. “No, my clever, it’s not in the novel business.” They go into the garden, a little later, Anna Petrovna and Lviv appear. The doctor spoke all the way about his honesty. She is bored, she again opposes him Ivanov – such as he was recently: cheerful, condescending to others.
When Ivanov and Sasha return a little later, he is confused by her confession of love for him: “My God, I do not understand anything… Shura, do not!” But Sasha with enthusiasm continues to talk about his love, and Ivanov rolls up a happy laugh: “This means to start life first? .. Again for the matter?” Their kiss is seen by Anna Petrovna, who came in. Ivanov in horror exclaims: “Sarah!”
In the house of Ivanov Lebedev, Lvov, Borkin – everyone needs to talk to him about his, Ivanov wants to be left alone. Lebedev offers him secretly from Zyuzyushka money, Ivanova takes quite another: “What’s with me? .. I myself do not understand.” And further, alone with himself, recalls: “Another year is gone, how healthy and strong he was, he was cheerful, tireless, hot… And now… tired, I do not believe… I do not expect anything, I’m not sorry. .. “He does not understand why and for what did not love Sarah, Sasha’s love seems to him an abyss. And again: “I do not understand, I do not understand, I do not understand!”
Lvov, having called Ivanov to explain, says that he understands his actions and he is ready to call things by their real name: Ivanov needs the death of his wife in order to get a dowry for Sasha Lebedeva. In vain Ivanov urges him not to be so self-assured: “No, doctor, in each of us there are too many wheels, cogs and valves, so that we can judge each other by the first impression or by two or three external signs…” Having seen Sasha coming in, the doctor tells Ivanov: “Now, I hope, we understand each other perfectly!”
Ivanov’s arrival is not encouraging, in his novel he sees a “common, battered place: he lost heart and lost ground.” She appeared, cheerful in spirit, strong, and gave him a helping hand… “. But Sasha really thinks to save Ivanov. “Men do not understand a lot, every girl will like a loser than a lucky one, because everyone is tempted by love…” Let Ivanov be with his wife a year, ten – she, Sasha, will not tire of waiting.
After her departure, Anna Petrovna enters, insulted, she demands an explanation from her husband. Ivanov is ready to admit that he is deeply guilty before her, but when he hears from his wife all the same interpretation of his actions: “All this time you deceived me in the most insolent manner, dishonorable, low man! You owe to Lebedev, and now, to wriggle out of duty, to turn his daughter’s head, deceive her just like me, “- here he can not stand it. He gasps, asks her to shut up, at last a horrible, insulting one breaks out from him: “Shut up, Jewess, so know that you will soon die. The doctor said that you will soon die…” And when he saw how his words affected her, sobbing, grabs his head: “How I am to blame, God, how I am to blame!”
About a year passed. During this time Sarah died, the old man Shabelsky Borkin suvatal for a young rich widow. In the house Lebedevyh preparations for the wedding of Ivanov and Sasha.
Doctor Lvov walks worried. He is strangled by hatred for Ivanov, he wants to tear off that mask and bring it to the surface. Lebedev and Sasha are not very cheerful: both father and daughter confess to each other that in the upcoming wedding “something is not right, that’s not it!” But Sasha is ready to go to the end: “He is a good, unhappy, misunderstood person, I will love him, I will understand, I will put him on his feet.” I will fulfill my task. “
Unexpectedly for all appears Ivanov. “It’s not too late, we need to stop this senseless comedy…” he says to Sasha. It was on this morning that he realized that he had finally died, that his boredom, despondency, discontent were incompatible with living life, and his conscience did not allow him to ruin Sasha’s youth. He asks her to help him, and this very minute, immediately abandon him. But Sasha rejects his generosity, although he sees that instead of active love, a martyr’s love turns out. Kind-hearted Lebedev understands everything in his own way: he offers Ivanov and Sasha ten thousand treasured. But the bride and groom are stubborn: everyone says that he will act according to the dictates of his own conscience.
He explains to Lebedev for the last time: “I was young, hot, sincere, intelligent, I loved, I hated and I did not believe like everyone else, I worked and hoped for ten, I fought with mills, I beat my head against the walls… And so cruelly avenges life for me, with which I fought! I’ve been furious: at the age of thirty, already hung over, tired, torn, broken, without faith, without love, without purpose, like a shadow, I hang around among people and do not know who I am, why I live, what do I want? .. Oh, how indignant is pride in me, what franticity suffocates me! “
Doctor Lvov manages to shout out his insult: “I announce loudly that you are a scoundrel!” – but Ivanov listens to it coldly and calmly. He delivered the verdict himself. “I woke up in youth, Ivanov said!” Taking out the revolver, he runs away and shoots himself.