The action takes place in the provincial town, in the house of the Prozorovs.
Irina, the youngest of the three sisters of the Prozorovs, is twenty years old. “It’s sunny and fun in the yard,” and a table is set in the hall, waiting for the guests-officers of the artillery battery quartered in the city and its new commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin. Everyone is full of joyful expectations and hopes. Irina: “I do not know why it’s so light in my soul! … I’m exactly on sails, I have a broad blue sky and big white birds are running around.” In the autumn, Prozorov’s move to Moscow is scheduled. Sisters do not doubt that their brother Andrei will go to university and eventually become a professor. Kulygin, a gymnasium teacher,
But already in the second action the major notes are replaced by minor ones. Andrei finds himself no boredom. He, who dreamed of a professor in Moscow, does not at all deceive the post of secretary of the zemstvo council, and in the city he feels “alien and lonely”. Masha finally disappointed in her husband, who once seemed to her “terribly learned, intelligent and important,” and among his fellow teachers she simply suffers. Irina is not satisfied with her work at the telegraph office: “What I wanted so much, what I dreamed of, there’s no one in it… Labor without poetry, without thoughts…” Olga, tired and headache, returns from the gymnasium. Not in the spirit of Vershinin. He still continues to assure that “everything on earth must change little by little”, but immediately adds: “And how I would like to prove to you that there is no happiness, there should not be and will not be for us…
Natasha, gradually tidying up the whole house to her own hands, escorts guests waiting for mummers. “Meshchanka!” – Masha says to Irina in her heart.
Three years passed. If the first action was played at noon, and the yard was “sunny, fun”, then the remarks to the third action “warn” about the other – gloomy, sad – events: “Behind the stage, the alarm is to be heard on the occasion of a fire that began a long time ago. open the window you can see, red from the glow. ” The House of Prozorovs is full of people fleeing from the fire.
Irina sobs: “Where has everything gone, and life goes and never returns, never, never will we go to Moscow… I’m desperate, I’m desperate!” Masha thinks: “Once we live our life, what will be of us?” Andrei cries: “When I got married, I thought that we would be happy… everyone is happy… But my God…” Perhaps even more disappointed is Tuzenbach: “What was the happy life for me, where was she? ” In the binge Chebutykin: “I’m empty in my head, cold in my soul, maybe I’m not a man, but only pretend that I have arms and legs… and a head, maybe I do not exist at all, but it only seems to me that I walk, eat, sleep. ” And the harder Kuligin says: “I’m satisfied, I’m satisfied, I’m satisfied,” the more obvious it becomes how all broken up, unhappy.
And finally, the last action. Autumn is approaching. Masha, walking along the avenue, looks up: “And the flying birds are already flying…” The artillery brigade leaves the city: it is being moved to another place, either to Poland or to Chita. Officers come to say goodbye to Prozorovs. Fedotik, making a photo for memory, observes: “… silence and calm will come in the city”. Tuzenbach adds: “And boring is terrible.” Andrei is even more categorical: “The city will be empty, and they will cover it with a hood.”
Masha parted with Vershinin, whom she so passionately fell in love with: “Unsuccessful life… I do not need anything now…” Olga, becoming the head of the gymnasium, understands: “In Moscow, therefore, do not be.” Irina decided – “if I’m not destined to be in Moscow, then so be it” – to accept the proposal of Tuzenbach, who retired: “We are getting married with the baron tomorrow, tomorrow we leave for the brick, and the day after tomorrow I’m already at school, And suddenly suddenly wings grew on my soul, I became more cheerful, it became much easier and again I wanted to work and work… “Chebutykin in affection:” Fly, my darlings, fly with God! “
On the “flight” he blesses in his own way and Andrew: “You know, put on a hat, pick up a stick and go… go and go, go without looking.” And the further you go, the better. “
But the most modest hopes of the heroes of the play will not come true. Salty, in love with Irina, provokes a quarrel with the baron and kills him in a duel. The broken Andrey does not have enough strength to follow Chebutykin’s advice and take up the “staff”: “Why are we, just beginning to live, becoming boring, gray, uninteresting, lazy, indifferent, useless, unhappy? …”
The battery leaves the city. A military march sounds. Olga: “Music plays so cheerfully, cheerfully, and I want to live, and it seems that a little more, and we’ll find out why we live, why suffer… If you knew! If you knew, if you knew!”
The heroes of the play are not free migratory birds, they are enclosed in a strong social “cage”, and the personal destinies of all who are in it are subject to the laws on which the whole country living through general unhappiness lives. Not “who”, but “what?” dominates man. This main cause of misfortunes and failures in the play has several names – “vulgarity”, “baseness”, “sinful life” … The face of this “vulgarity” in Andrei’s reflections looks particularly visible and unsightly: “Our city has existed for two hundred years, in one hundred thousand inhabitants, and not one that was not like others… Only eat, drink, sleep, then die… others are born, and also eat, drink, sleep, and so as not to be stupid with boredom, diversify life its a nasty gossip, vodka, cards, litigation… “