A party is going on at the house. The Jewish band is playing, and, in the drawing-room, everyone is dancing merrily in pairs. Everyone makes their way into the sitting room for a break. Pishtchik and Trophimof come first; Pishtchik explains that he has had two strokes already, but did not want to sit out the dancing. He drunkenly confesses that he has no money—yet, like a hungry dog who believes in nothing but meat, he keeps chasing it.
In contrast to the somber, somewhat intellectual tenor of the previous act, the third act opens with a frivolous, noisy dance party. The festivities are well under way, as Pishtchik is already drunkenly rambling about his ravenous desire for money in one of the most honest speeches about finance in the entire play.
Barbara appears in the doorway—Trophimof, teasing her, calls out “Madame Lopakhin” over and over. In response, Barbara calls him a “mouldy gentleman.” She laments that though her mother has hired the band, there is no way of paying for it, and then abruptly returns to the dancing.
Barbara’s offhand comment about her mother’s inability to pay for the party just before she returns to the dancing shows that though Barbara is concerned about money, she has no idea of how to fix her or her family’s situation.
Trophimof turns back to Pishtchik and tells him if the energy he had spent throughout his life trying to secure more and more funds had been directed at something more useful, Pishtchik would have enough funds to “turn the world upside down.” Pishtchik says that though he owes 31 pounds in interest the day after tomorrow, he’s already secured 13 pounds of it. He pats his jacket pocket, but then becomes nervous—he cries out that he has lost his money, but then feels deeper in his jacket, and realizing it is there after all. He notes that he has, in just a few seconds, worked himself up into a sweat.
This scene serves to deepen Trophimof’s contempt for people who, like Pishtchik, worry incessantly about money but have done almost nothing in their lives to earn money or safeguard themselves against the problems and pitfalls that accompany wealth.
Ranevsky and Charlotte enter. Ranevsky asks where Gayef is—she wonders what could be taking so long. Trophimof suspects that Gayef has been unsuccessful at the auction. Ranevsky laments that today—auction day—was a “stupid” day for a party. She sits down and sings to herself while Charlotte begins doing card tricks and ventriloquism to keep everybody entertained. After a few tricks, she pulls out a shawl and shakes it out; Anya appears, as if by magic, behind it. Everyone applauds. Charlotte shakes out the shawl once more, and this time conjures Barbara. She leaves the drawing room; Pishtchik, enchanted by Charlotte, hurries after her.
Though Ranevsky states that it is a “stupid” day for a party, it does seem that she may have thrown the party for the purpose of distracting herself from her worries about the auction. Charlotte’s conjuring tricks seem like they should lighten the mood and help distract Ranevsky from her troubles at hand, but Ranevsky is immune even to her servants’ attempts to bring some levity to the situation.
Ranevsky laments that there is still no sign of her brother. She has not enjoyed the magic show at all. She wonders whether the property has sold, or whether the auction didn’t even happen; she hates being in suspense. Barbara attempts to soothe her mother by assuring her that Gayef has purchased their land back—after all, their rich aunt in Yaroslav sent him funds and the power of attorney to purchase it in her name. Ranevsky says the money from Yaroslav would barely even cover the interest. She puts her head in her hands and miserably states that her fate is being decided without her.
Ranevsky knows that things are looking bad—any attempts to distract her or comfort her made by her friends, family, or servants is no use. She has gotten herself into a terrible spot, and knows that not even the gift of money from her wealthy aunt is enough to reverse the damage she caused to her estate and her family.
Trophimof starts teasing Barbara again, calling her Madame Lopakhin. Barbara teases Trophimof right back. Madame Ranevsky urges Barbara not to get so upset and just go ahead and marry Lopakhin already. Barbara insists she can’t marry without a proposal—in two whole years, the man has never asked for her hand, and can barely be bothered with her.
Barbara’s whole life is dedicated to fixing her mother’s mistakes—like looking after the house in her five-year absence and chiding her for overspending. Even Barbara’s romantic life is not her own—but simply a tool for her family’s financial advancement, and this weighs on her heavily.
Yasha enters the room and informs everyone, laughing, that Ephikhodof has just broken a billiard cue in the next room. Barbara, incensed, storms off to investigate. Ranevsky urges Trophimof to go easy on Barbara—the girl is unhappy enough already. Trophimof laments that Barbara has spent the whole summer trying to keep him and Anya apart even though the two of them are “above love.”
Despite Ranevsky’s anxieties about her own problems, this is, after all, a party—and as such, interpersonal dramas of all kinds are being brought up and aired out.
Ranevsky worries that the property has sold—she hates not knowing. She begs Trophimof to say something that will comfort her. He tells her that whether the property sells today or whether it remains in her hands, “it’s all over with it long ago;” the path to the past and the way things once were is “overgrown.” Ranevsky tells Trophimof that because he is still young and has not known true suffering, he looks toward the future with starry eyes. She asks him to take pity on her—she was born in this house, as was her father and her grandfather; she loves it, and without the home and the cherry orchard, her life has no meaning. Finally, she adds that this house was the place her little boy drowned.
Ranevsky seeks comfort from Trophimof—but the man is so focused on his own idealism and his desire to impress upon Ranevsky the changing social atmosphere of the country that he can offer her none. Ranevsky, in a surprisingly honest and genuine moment, lays bare the depths of her suffering—though they might look like “rich people problems” to some, she is in deep emotional turmoil as she faces down losing the place that has meant so much to her family. Trophimof, not Ranevsky, is the selfish one in this moment.
Ranevsky reaches into her purse for a handkerchief and pulls out with it a telegram, which she drops to the floor. Trophimof picks up the telegram and hands it back to Ranevsky. She confides in him that her ex-lover in Paris writes her every day—he is ill again, and wants her to come care for him. She asks Trophimof what she should do—she feels that her lingering love for him despite all his abuse is “like a stone tied round her neck.” Though it drags her down, it is precious, and she loves it.
Ranevsky’s cruel, thoughtless ex-lover is like a stone tied around her neck. Ranevsky used this metaphor to describe her relationship even with the happier parts of her past earlier in the play; Ranevsky is so plagued by thoughts of the past that she cannot differentiate between the parts of her history that are an albatross and those that are a comfort.
Trophimof urges Ranevsky to see that her lover has robbed her; he is a rascal who will never treat her right. Ranevsky tells Trophimof that he is young, and cannot understand the matters of love—he himself is not even in love with anyone, and as such is a “freak.” He is not “above love”—he just can’t make up his mind. Trophimof is “aghast” at Ranevsky’s cruel words, and exits the room, shouting that “all is over” between the two of them.
Ranevsky has been seeking comfort in Trophimof—but he gives her none. She attempts to deflect and accuse him of being closed-off and cruel (perhaps to excuse her own sentimentality, which is slowly ruining her,) and Trophimof takes great offense.
The sound of a crash comes from another room, followed by Barbara and Anya’s screams and laughter—Anya runs in laughing about how Trophimof has fallen down the stairs. A waltz starts up, and everyone goes off to dance. Trophimof has not left the party, and Ranevsky apologizes to him, inviting him to dance with her. He accepts.
Despite their heated exchange just moments ago, Trophimof and Ranevsky mend fences—perhaps they each realized that they were both being selfish and cruel to one another.
Firs and Yasha watch everyone dancing. Firs confesses he’s not feeling well—the luxurious, grandiose parties of old are no more, and the family’s parties have become shabby and embarrassing. Yasha, yawning, says he wishes Firs would die.
Firs longs for the past; but the idea of a return to the past, and its constricting social structures, is tiring and unappealing to the pretentious Yasha.
Ranevsky, needing a rest, returns to the sitting-room. Anya comes into the room—she reports that she has just heard someone in the kitchen saying that the cherry orchard was sold. Anya goes back out to dance with Trophimof. Ranevsky, more anxious than ever, bids Yasha go find out who purchased the cherry orchard; Yasha replies that the stranger spreading the rumor has already left the party. Conspiratorially, he leans close to Ranevsky and asks her to take him away from Russia—the country is “barbarous,” he says, and the two of them should return to Paris, and forget about the cherry orchard entirely.
Yasha is only looking out for himself. In this passage, he reacts to the rumor that the cherry orchard has sold not with sympathy towards his mistress, but instead with pleas for her to use the occasion of her great loss to take Yasha on an adventure and leave Russia behind.
Pishtchik enters and sweeps Madame Ranevsky away for a waltz. Dunyasha comes into the room and powders her face—she does not enjoy dancing, she says, for it makes her feel faint. She brags to Yasha that one of the other guests—a gentleman from town—told her she was pretty as a flower. Yasha yawns and leaves the room. Ephikhodof enters and greets Dunyasha, asking why she’s been ignoring him. Though he has grown accustomed to misfortune, he wants an answer to his proposal. Dunyasha tells Ephikhodof to leave her alone; he remarks that he meets each misfortune with “smiles and even laughter.”
Chekhov shifts his gaze, in this passage, from what the “upper-class” guests are getting up to at the party to what the servants are experiencing. Dunyasha is still attempting to make Yasha love her by acting more like a lady—and Yasha is still ignoring her. Ephikhodof, too, is attempting to make himself seen, but is only met with more misfortune and embarrassment.
Barbara enters the room in a huff. She chides Ephikhodof for breaking the billiard cue and Dunyasha for shirking her duties as a maid during a party. Ephikhodof retorts that he is allowed to play billiards if he wants to, despite being in the family’s employ as their clerk; Barbara orders him to “clear out” immediately. Ephikhodof asks Barbara to speak to him in “genteeler language.” Barbara, once again, orders him to get out of her sight, and he leaves hurriedly, threatening to “lodge a complaint” against Barbara. She picks up a walking stick and is about to leave the room to strike Ephikhodof—she raises the stick above her head and brings it down just as Lopakhin comes around the corner. Lopakhin thanks her for the “warm reception.”
Barbara, threatened by the idea that her servants are shirking their duties and behaving like guests at the party they are supposed to be working, lashes out at the accident-prone Ephikhodof. Ephikhodof stands up for himself, infuriating Barbara, who seems as if she is about to resort to physical violence at the moment Lopakhin returns from the auction.
Excitement buzzes through the next room as everyone realizes that Lopakhin is back. Ranevsky runs into the room, asking what took him so long, and where Gayef is. Lopakhin looks joyful—he says that Gayef is just behind him. The auction ended hours ago, but the men missed the train, and were forced to wait for the next one. Gayef enters, crying. He passes some parcels to Firs and says he’s going upstairs to change—he is tired, and hasn’t eaten all day.
Lopakhin and Gayef’s very different states upon their return from the auction is evidence that good news is not in store for Madame Ranevsky, her family, and their orchard.
Ranevsky calls after him, asking about the cherry orchard and whether it was sold; Lopakhin answers that it was. Ranevsky asks who bought it, and Lopakhin answers that he himself did. Ranevsky is overwhelmed; she staggers, nearly falling over. Barbara throws her house keys to the ground and leaves. Lopakhin is clearly overjoyed—he begins telling everyone about the sale. He outbid everyone at the auction, and now, he gleefully shouts, the cherry orchard is his at last. He thinks he must be drunk or dreaming; he can hardly believe his good luck. He wishes his father and grandfather could see him now—he who ran around barefoot in the winter, with no money for shoes, has now bought a property that hasn’t an equal in beauty anywhere else in the world.
Lopakhin’s glee at having purchased the orchard is put on a shameless display as he monologues about his good fortune. Lopakhin doesn’t seem to be able to read the room, so to speak, and selfishly goes on about his own triumph and success. Meanwhile, Ranevsky and her family, gathered around him, soak in the realization that their family’s estate is gone forever due to their own poor planning and selfish ways.
Lopakhin, still smiling dreamily, bends down and picks up Barbara’s keys. He jingles them merrily, and then asks the musicians—who have stopped playing—to resume their song. He vows that he will “lay his axe to the cherry orchard” soon, fill the place with villas, and make it so that the band’s sons and grandsons will soon “see a new life here.” The band resumes playing.
Lopakhin’s promise to cut down the cherry orchard soon reveals his desire to disrupt the social order once and for all, cementing the triumph of the middle class over the outdated, useless institutions of the aristocracy.
Ranevsky sinks into a chair and weeps. Lopakhin goes to her and asks why she wouldn’t have listened to him—there is no changing what has happened now. Pishtchik comes over to Lopakhin and takes him by the arm. He tells Lopakhin he is being insensitive, and urges him to leave Ranevsky alone. As Pishtchik leads Lopakhin out of the drawing room, Lopakhin bumps into a table, toppling an expensive candelabra; he laughs, saying it’s no matter, as he can now pay for everything.
Lopakhin seems to realize that all his grandstanding has upset Ranevsky further—but rather than offer her comfort, he reminds her that she was complicit in her family’s own fall from power and propriety.
Anya and Trophimof enter the room; Anya goes to Ranevsky and kneels at her feet. She comforts her crying mother. Though the cherry orchard is sold and gone, she says, there is still so much life before them; the two of them will go away, Anya says, and plant a new orchard somewhere, even lovelier than this one. Happiness, Anya promises, will soon be upon them once again.
Though Anya promised to leave her home and the cherry orchard behind without remorse at the end of the last act, she now promises her mother that they will go somewhere else and find a way to duplicate their former life, indicating that Anya, too, has a good deal of sentimentality for the part of her life that has started ending this evening.