It is a cloudy autumn day. In the garden, in the alley under the old poplar, served tea table at the samovar stands old nurse Marina. She offers doctor Astrov to eat, but he refuses.
Appears Telegin, an impoverished landowner, known as Waflia, who lives in the estate on the position of a houseguest, he pays attention to the warm and pleasant weather, assuming that they all live in peace and harmony. But it is peace and harmony that the house lacks. Professor Serebriakov’s wife had twice pronounced that the house was unfavorable.
These fragmentary, seemingly not addressed to each other phrases come, echoing in a dialogical debate and highlight the sense of tense drama experienced by the characters of the play.
Doctor Astrov had lived and worked there for ten years and he complains o his nurse that he wants nothing, needs nothing and loves nobody. Voinitsiy, who used to rule the estate, has changed. He says that he has become worse, because of laziness, and does nothing but grumbles.
Voinitsiy does not hide his envy of professor’s retirement, especially his success with women. Voinitsiy’s mother, Marii, adores her son in law, the husband of her deceased daughter. Voinitsiy despises Serebryakov’s classes of scientists, saying that the man writes about art without understanding anything in it. Finally, he hates Serebryakov, though his hatred may seem very biased: he fell in love with his beautiful wife. And Elena reasonably says to Voinitsiy that there is nothing to hate her husband for, he is the same as everybody else.
Then Voinitsiy exposes deeper and, as it seems to him a compelling reason to his intolerant, uncompromising attitude to the ex-professor - he considers himself cruelly deceived, as he used to work for the professor, and to adore him, and he turned out to be good-for-nothing.
Around Serebryakov the atmosphere of intolerance, hatred, and enmity thickens. He annoys Astrov, and even his wife barely takes him. They all once heard the diagnosis of the disease that has infected the heroes of the play, and all their contemporaries - the world is not killed by robbers, not by fire, but by hatred, hostility, and all these petty squabbles.
They, including the very Elena Andreevna, somehow forgot that Serebryakov - "is the same as all" and, like everyone else, can count on the indulgence, on compassionate to his attitude, especially as he suffers from gout, suffering from insomnia, fears of death. He asks his wife whether he has no right to the late old age, to the attention of people to him. Yes, we must be compassionate, says Sonya, Serebryakov's daughter from his first marriage. But only old nurse shows sincere participation to Serebryakov. The old are the same as small, they want someone to pity them.
But one old nurse could not relieve the oppressive fraught with trouble atmosphere. Conflict knot is tied so tight that there is the climax of the explosion. Serebryakov gathers everyone in the living room to invite them to discuss invented "means": not very profitable estate to sell, the paid money turn into interest-bearing securities, which would enable to buy a dacha in Finland.
Voinitsiy shows indignation: Serebryakov allows himself to dispose of the estate, which factually and legally belonged to Sonia; he did not think about the fate of Voinitsiy, who ran the estate for twenty years, getting miserable money; not thinking about the fate of Mary Vasilievna, so utterly devoted to Professor! Indignant, enraged Voinitsiy shoots Serebryakov, shoots twice and both times it misses.
Frightened by mortal danger, that only by chance has passed him, Serebryakov decides to return to Kharkiv. Astrov leaves for his little estate, as before, to treat men, engage in gardening and forest nurseries. Diminish love affairs. Elena Andreevna has no courage to answer Astrov’s. When parting she says that fascinated the doctor, but only a little bit. She hugs him impulsively, but with caution. And Sonya is finally convinced that with her such an ugly girl, Astrov cannot fall in love.
Life in the mansion backs to its previous life. Without the consequences remains the conflict between Voinitsiy and Serebryakov. Professor promises that Voinitsiy will continue to get what he used to. And as only when Astrov, Serebryakov part, Sonia takes the ledger and one account after another is written.
The life in the estate seems to become as it was before, but it is nothing but an illusion of dignified life, but nothing changes, the character continue lead miserable existence.