A. P. Chexov's Three Sisters: Symbolic Numerals

Margarita Odesskaia, Russian State University for the Humanities

Even before Chexov began work on his play, he knew that he would call it Three Sisters. Although in the process of his work, he added new nuances to his characters, corrected monologues, but never changed the title of the play. It is possible that Chexov choose specifically this title, an allusion to familial conflict (such as in his previous play Uncle Vanja), on the other hand, perhaps to refer to the mytho-poetic images associated with symbolic numerals. There are two levels to Chexov's play: the world of earthly possessions and real events, and the world of metaphysical ideas, images, and symbols.

If the title is connected to the world of real events, then one may recall the lesser known epistolary short story "Three Sisters" (1891) by Ieronim Jasinskij. The British researcher Donald Rayfield noted the situational similarities between the Prozorovs and the family of famous British writers--the three Bront╬ sisters.

Chexov's Three Sisters was written at the culmination of his career when he experienced great changes in his own personal life: construction of his Yalta house, marriage, an attempt to start a family and at the same time, a strong feeling of solitude even while among those close to him. The situation of estrangement is even more apparent in the later works of Chexov such as Three Sisters, "The Bishop," and "The Fianc╚e."

It is apparent that the numbers in the play have a special meaning. The heroes recall and make light of superstitions connected with the number thirteen. They always talk about their ages and about time; they philosophize about the years gone by and about what life will be like after 200, 300 and 1,000 years.

The number three in Chexov's title is also part of a very specific system, the thread of which extends throughout the whole play and is connected to the idea of the formation of the world. The play consists of several love triangles in which the main characters take part, and even lonely Ol'ga is a potential participant.

The characters' lives, their thoughts and their sufferings are connected with three periods of time: the past, present and future. The past and future are situated in opposition to the present. Towards the end of the play, Chexov's heroes come to the understanding, through losses and disappointments, that the three phases of time have their own individual meaning and, at the same time, one and the same meaning. These phases are all part of the circle of earthly existence.

The three sisters are, on the one hand, three heroines with concrete, individual fates, and with more or less realistic behaviors, but at the same time they are also conventional, symbolic figures, corresponding to the mythological triad.

The final scene of the play is symbolic. It as if the feminine triad arises from the ashes of broken hopes, lost loves, and deaths. This triad corresponds to the divine Andrej Rublev's "Trinity," which reflects the idea of salvation through unity. The faces of the iconographic figures are turned toward each other and the image is reminiscent of a circle. Appealing to our cultural memory, Chexov provides his alienated heroes with the chance for rebirth in unity and belief. It is not by accident that in his remarks, the author thoroughly fixes the gestures, poses and movements of his heroines.

At the end of the play, appealing to mythopoetic images, Chexov splits the frame of real space to render a new metaphysical meaning. It is possible that during the last period of his life the terminally ill writer strongly felt the need for the unity of Christian belief, hope and love, which is reflected in the divine Trinity.