Life on the Border: Plot Movement in Anton Chexov's Three Sisters

Marina Madorskaya, University of Michigan

The goal of the paper is to examine A. Chexov's Three Sisters through the prism of Jurij Lotman's theory of plot movement. On the one hand, Lotman's theory provides a key to the play's dramatic structure and to the problems connected with its stage productions. On the other hand, the play exemplifies Lotman's productive (and self-acknowledged) inconsistency. According to Lotman, plot is organically tied to the picture of the world, which, for Lotman, signifies, first and foremost, a point of view: the semantic field of the text's world is subdivided into binary subspaces by the personages. Plot movement occurs through events. An event takes place when a mobile personage crosses the border between the binary subspaces, opposite and mutually exclusive. However, Lotman's notion of the border between these subspaces turns tentative when he discusses the center/periphery binary: center and periphery do not constitute a binary opposition--periphery is the border between "us" and "them." Therefore, one may conclude that the battle between "us" and "them" takes place on the periphery, which is a more or less fluid space. Anyone who has read or seen Three Sisters is most likely to remember the line, which became the play's slogan and symbol: "To Moscow! To Moscow!" Moscow is the non-existent center of the play's world, the conglomeration of the protagonists' hopes and aspirations. Although the play presents a complex world, partitioned according to multiple binaries, the relationship between Moscow and the Prozorov household informs every partition. Yet it is an essentially false center-periphery relationship. The impossibility of leaving the periphery epitomizes the movement of Chexovian plot in general, the riddle of which this paper attempts to solve.