Saturday, September 17, 2011
Analysis of "The Lady with the Pet Dog" by Anton Chekhov
Character Analysis of "The Lady with the Pet Dog"
Dmitri Gurov is a Moscow banker who is intrigued by the sudden appearance of a young woman walking alone along the sea front of Yalta. He is a married man with children. While it may appear that he lives an ordinarily life, he is a discontented married man. He despises his wife whom he thinks is unintelligent and inelegant. He develops a strong attraction to Anna Sergeyevna, a woman whom he sees one day walking alone with her dog. He eventually develops an affair with her. At first, he thought that she is just like another woman with whom he will have an affair. Little did he know that because of Anna he will find out more about himself.
Anna Sergeyevna is a young and naïve woman who is married to a government official. She describes her husband as flunkey. Just like Dmitri, she is unhappy with her married life. She becomes attracted to Dmitri and falls in love with him. At first she feels guilty for sleeping with him but she soon realizes that she is very much in love with him such that even after they parted ways at Yalta, they still decided to see each other at Moscow.
At first glance, “The Lady with the Pet Dog” may be considered as a story about moral corruption, infidelity, disloyalty, and sin since this is essentially a story about two married people having an affair. A deeper reading of the story will reveal that this is more than just about morality but about life.
It may seem that Anton Chekhov wanted the readers to despise Dmitri as he was depicted as a philandering man who did not love his family. It must be emphasized here that Dmitri was married to a woman who was not even named in the story. Perhaps, Anton Chekhov wanted to emphasize how unimportant Dmitri’s wife is to his life. She was however described as a “tall, erect women with dark eyebrows, staid and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual.” Yet Dmitri considered her “unintelligent, narrow, and inelegant.” His scorn and despise for his wife was made evident as it was emphasized that Dmitri did not like to be at home with his family. It was also described that he had extra-marital affairs many times in his life. He was not only described as an irresponsible husband and father but he was also chauvinistic as he considered women as “the lower race.” This arrogant attitude towards women was highlighted in the first part of the story. Even if he had not even talked to Anna, he was already excited about the thoughts of him conquering the woman whom he thought was young and naïve, to wit:
but when the lady sat down at the next table three paces from him, he remembered these tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a romance with an unknown woman, whose name he did not know, suddenly took possession of him.
On the other hand, Anna was depicted as a young and naïve married woman. One may think that she was living a normal life yet she secretly despised her husband whom he described as “flunkey.” She revealed to Dmitri that she had been unhappy with her husband for a long time. She tells him that she had been deceiving him for a long time. She even considered her marriage as a mistake, to wit:
I was twenty when I was married to him. I have been tormented by curiosity; I wanted something better. 'There must be a different sort of life,' I said to myself. I wanted to live! To live, to live! . . . I was fired by curiosity . . . you don't understand it, but, I swear to God, I could not control myself; something happened to me: I could not be restrained. I told my husband I was ill, and came here. . .
Yet, the storyline radically shifted to a new direction towards the end of the story. What was previously thought of as a story of moral corruption and degeneration was in truth an accurate picture of the realities of life. Anton Chekhov wanted to tell the readers that the things that happened to Dmitri and Anna may very well happen to every one of us. People do fall in love even if they are already married. As married couples interact with other people there is always the possibility that they may be attracted to other people. The married couple need not be unhappy or discontented with their marriage to have an extra-marital affair. In fact, there need not be a reason to be involved in an affair. Even happy and contended couples may by accidental chance meet somebody else and develop passionate feelings for them.
What Anton Chekhov had shown in this story was that he was not a conventional moralist. He treated morality from a different perspective in this story. Though he did not say that engaging in adultery or promiscuity is good, he did emphasize that this is a reality of life that we must deal with. He was in fact a realist.
The underlying message of the story is that Dmitri was unhappy with his married life. Anna was likewise unhappy with her married life. By some stroke of chance, they met and found each other. Though it may be possible that they their attraction for each other in the beginning of their story was brought about by their unhappy marriage, they soon developed deep feelings for each other. In the end, the feelings they had for each other was more than mere passion or lust but even friendship. This was made evident towards the end of this story, to wit:
Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.
His realistic attitude towards life and its endless possibilities were shown in this story. The characters were depicted in a very realistic manner. His characters were very real as they had their own strengths and weaknesses. Dmitri was a male chauvinist who did not love his wife. He was consumed with his desire for sex with random women. Anna was a young and innocent woman who was having second thoughts about her marriage. She went to Yalta hoping to take a break from her sad married life. They were both trapped in a loveless marriage. Towards the end of the story, Dmitri’s character was transformed from a carefree and unsympathetic character to a loving and caring man. He fell in love and deeply touched by the strong bond and connection he had with Anna. He chased her to her province. He became vulnerable by revealing to her his true feelings for her. This was something that Dmitri had not done with the other sexual escapades he had in the past with other women. He even acted stupidly in kissing Anna in public forgetting that her husband may be in the vicinity. Verily, all people who have experienced being in love may truly relate with the character of Dmitri. We will all go out of our way, make ourselves vulnerable and act stupid at times because of love. Truly, this is the power of love as realistically portrayed by Anton Chekhov.
While being realistic, Anton Chekhov was not judgmental. He simply wanted to tell the realities of life without convincing his readers that a character or an act is immoral. He just wanted to tell a story while at the same time refusing to judge the characters or attempt to offer suggestions on how to improve their situation. This was evident in this story, to wit:
And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.
It was very typical of Anton Chekhov’s style to give an open-ended ending to a story. The ending was written with ambiguity leaving the readers to try to think for themselves what may eventually happen to the couple.
Though the future remained uncertain for Dmitri and Anna, they both willingly accepted their situation. Both of them were living two separate lives. One life is open, seen and known by their families and friends. The other life is known only to both of them. They were happy but they also know that they could not openly enjoy it for a long time. They also knew they may not have a happy ending but what mattered to them was they were enjoying each other’s company. Truly, these are the realities of life.
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