Madame Ranevsky gives a party on the day in August when the cherry orchard is scheduled to be sold at auction. Music plays in the background as she and her daughters talk with Charlotte and Trophimof while guests dance the grand-rond. Pishtchik and Trophimof enter the sitting room talking about the money troubles. Barbara comes over and Trophimof jokingly refers to her as "Madame Lopakhin." Angered already by the cost of the party, she becomes even angrier at Trophimof's joke and leaves in a huff. Trophimof tells Pishtchik that he could have achieved great things if he didn't have to constantly scrounge around looking for money: "I dare say you would have turned the world upside down" (29). Pishtchik suddenly panics when he thinks he has lost his purse but agrees with Pishtchik after he realizes the purse is inside the lining of his coat. Madame Ranevsky enters with Charlotte at this point and wonders what can be keeping her brother Gayef and castigates herself for having the party. Charlotte amuses the guests with card tricks and magic tricks. Delighted, Pishtchik tells her he loves her. Then, as her finale, Charlotte makes Anya appear from behind a shawl. Anya kisses her mother and scampers away. Charlotte performs the same trick making Barbara appear, and Barbara similarly runs off, followed by Pishtchik.
Madame Ranevsky is deeply anguished about the outcome of the auction. Barbara tells her that surely their aunt will buy the cherry orchard for Anya. However, Madame Ranevsky is highly doubtful. Trophimof continues to tease Barbara by continuing to call her "Madame Lopakhin." Barbara is deeply upset by this because even though everyone thinks they are involved with each other, Lopakhin has never proposed marriage to her. She justifies his behavior by thinking he is obsessed with making money and says she would join a nunnery if only she had the money. As Trophimof continues to joke about her, she breaks down crying and leaves.
The servant Yasha comes in to announce that the clerk Ephikhodof has broken a billiard cue. Madame Ranevsky criticizes Trophimof for teasing Barbara and he tells her he does it to get back at her for always trying to chaperone Anya and him. He and Anya are "above love," he insists, and Madame Ranevsky responds sadly that she herself must then be beneath love.
Her anxiety continues to escalate as she waits for news of the auction and Trophimof attempts to soothe her by pointing out that it's too late to do anything; the cherry orchard has been lost because she failed to take action. She tells him that the cherry orchard represents her family and thus her self: "without the cherry orchard my life has no meaning to me" (32). They might as well sell her as sell the cherry orchard, she cries, while holding a telegram from her abusive Parisian lover begging her to return to him. Then she tells Trophimof that she will return to Paris. He becomes so upset he too begins to cry and pleads with her to change her mind. Deeply upset, Madame Ranevsky calls him a freak for thinking he is above love and thus is incapable of understanding her decision. This causes Trophimof to run out. Madame Ranevsky feels sorry at once and begs him to return. Anya enters from the kitchen after a crash to tell them that Trophimof has fallen down the stairs. Trophimof enters with Barbara, Madame Ranevsky apologizes and the music continues.
Anya tells them that she has heard that the cherry orchard has been sold, but she does not know to whom. Madame Ranevsky turns to Firs to ask where he will go. He tells her simply "wherever you tell me there I'll go" (35). She says he looks ill. Yasha asks her to take him to Paris with her but she doesn't answer. Pishtchik then asks Madame Ranevsky to dance with him and uses the opportunity to once more beg from her for a loan of eighteen pounds. Once again she refuses to answer.
The servant Dunyasha enters then, laughing as Ephikhodof follows: "I am so ladylike and refined," she says (35). Angry once again, Barbara scolds Dunyasha and Ephikhodof for acting like guests as Lopakhin enters to meet her head on. Everyone wants information on the outcome of the auction but before he can tell them, Gayef comes in weeping. Lopakhin announces that indeed the cherry orchard has been sold. Gayef leaves suddenly at this point taking Firs with him as Madame Ranevsky begs to hear the name of the new owner. Lopakhin, their former ignorant serf, explains to them that indeed he himself is the new owner and delightedly tells them the particulars of the sale and says "if only my father and grandfather could rise from their graves and see the whole affair" (38). Madame Ranevsky falls into a chair. Barbara storms out after throwing her ring of keys to the ground. Lopakhin is triumphant. To think, he says, that although he lived as a serf on the land, he is now the master. He tells the musicians to continue playing as Anya leads her devastated mother off with a promise: "we'll plant a new garden" (39).
In Act III, the characters become more fully rounded; their various personalities more life-like. In some regards they are similar but of course in others they are vastly different. In all, however, Chekhov cleverly positions the various characters in opposition to each other. As critics have noticed, they are all controlled by personal desire: Madame Ranevsky by passion, Trophimof by philosophy, Anya by love, Barbara by reason, and Lopakhin of course by power. In addition, once more the social changes brought about by the nineteenth-century Russian serfs' Liberation are demonstrated in the climax of the play. The serf, who as a boy was not even allowed in the kitchen of the estate, is now the owner, thanks to his shrewd hard work, while the mistress of the estate is now homeless in consequence of carelessness, pride, neglect and inaction, the very sins against which the philosopher Trophimof lectures. When attempting to decipher their personalities, the reader should keep in mind that Chekhov claimed to have written The Cherry Orchard as a comedy and not as a tragedy.
Act III contains the climax of the play's action as Lopakhin buys the cherry orchard himself out from under his neighbor Madame Ranevsky. Until now, he has tried every means to talk her into selling the orchard for enough money to pay her mortgage. After this treachery the reader is left wondering whether or not he was ever sincere in his efforts or knew beyond a doubt, given his background as a serf on the estate, that she would never sell. Did he thus position himself to become the next master? In this, and in other instances, Lopakhin is an extremely complex character. Why does he continue to play with Barbara's affections when it is apparent he does not love her? Is she merely a backup measure to acquire the property if his financial bid at auction fails? Why does he gloat that he has bought a cherry orchard "that hasn't its equal for beauty anywhere in the world" when he knows the cherry orchard will be almost instantly cut down, to "fill the place with villas"? (38).
In addition, Madame Ranevsky should be examined as a complex character. In Act I and II, she is no doubt a frivolous nincompoop, to put it mildly, and absolutely blind and insensitive to what is going on around her. However, by the end of Act III, the reader wonders, is she also a victim of the social system in which she was raised and taken advantage of by an angry former serf?
Attention should also be paid in this act to Chekhov's dramatic technique of indirect action in which all the "real" action takes place off stage while most of the characters remain on stage at a silly party. It is the not-knowing what is happening off stage, and the characters nervous response, that creates the dramatic intensity which results in the complete reversal of the main characters' roles. The rich Madame Ranevsky has become homeless while the serf Lopakhin has become the master.