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The Lady with the Dog
The Lady with the Dog is probably Chekhov's most popular and most beloved work. It tells a story of two different people who have one thing in common - they are obviously not satisfied with their lives and a looking for happiness, but, no matter how close they approach it, the happiness always remains unreachable.
The short story is an illustration of the author's skill to use minimum words, yet present maximum information. He is very poetic in his expression, and when he describes something, the reader is under the impression that he is painting on the canvas, for instance, here is how he speaks of the sea: "the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it." (Chekhov). Interestingly, the structure of the story is concentrated on the beginnings, not on the endings - the reader can guess where Gurov and Anna come from, but it remains unclear where they are heading, and further development of the events is not described. The story has no unpredictable twists, it is rather calm, because the events unfold in a controlled pace. The theme of the story looks very common and tricky: two married people meet each other at a resort and start an affair. However, this is only a cover under which hides a number of philosophical problems Chekhov wants to discuss.
Firstly, looking at Gurov and Anna, the reader might understand that even the situations which seemingly have no way out, can actually be solved. For the main heroes, it is obviously easier to deny themselves a chance to be together, than fall from grace. In the end of the story, they are confused, because they have no idea what to do in their situation, but for the reader, the answer is obvious: be together. Really, in the society of that time, it was not love and affection which was the main reason to get married, for marriages were usually arranged. So, this is another point of the story - most people are unhappy in their personal lives and are in constant search for love, thus there must be something wrong about forced marriages. Still, the society condemns adultery, and Anna calls herself "a bad, low woman" (Chekhov). So, the couple faces a difficult choice about whether they should do what they want or what the society wants them to do. Cuizon argues that their behavior is wrong, because "Adultery definitely affects society unfavorably." (para.8), but, as we can see from The Lady and the Dog, this is unhappy family life which leads to adultery. Remarkably, the author himself does not give his own opinion about the couple's behavior. His tone remains objective, he simply tells the story, all his feelings aside. Therefore, the reader is able to have a personal opinion about main hero trade;s behavior, and he or she can also imagine what might happen to these two people in the future.
Another theme of the story is love and the way it changes people. At the beginning of the story, Gurov is rather skeptical towards women, he did not love his wife, and "had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the lower race." (Chekhov). However, when he meets Anna, everything changes. At first, he thinks this affection is only fleeting and he will forget her, as he used to forget all the women before. Still, he seems to have fallen in love for the first time: "And only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love -- for the first time in his life." (Chekhov). Moreover, this love changes his perception of the society he lives in. When he wants to share his thoughts with the official, the man seems to be indifferent and changes the subject. This moment is an eye opener for Dmitri who suddenly realizes the society is not what he thought it was: "What savage manners, what people! What senseless nights, what uninteresting, uneventful days!" (Chekhov). What is even more poignant about his insight is that he actually is the part of this society, so he cannot escape it, "just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison" (Chekhov). So, love changed Gurov's nature - it taught him how to feel and be sincere.
It is worth mentioning that, although both Anna and Gurov are in this complicated relationship, only Gurov's metamorphosis is described, while Anna is left beyond reader's attention. The only change that takes place in Anna is after her intimacy with Gurov, when she condemns herself. The same happens with other people in the story one knows that they are there, but they are somewhat blurred. The author mentions couple's spouses, who both appear to be rather unattractive, but only Anna and Gurov are in focus. Such strategy fits perfectly for the description of lovers when two people are in love, everything around them loses sense, and all they think about is their partner.
When Gurov returns to Moscow and sees the snow falling, he, to a certain extent, compares his life and himself to natural the phenomenon. While talking to his daughter, he says that it is only the surface of the Earth that seems to be cold and freezing; meanwhile, the temperature is drastically different inside the planet. So is his life everything that people see is superficial and emotionless, but all his true feelings are hidden from the public view. He is living a double life, but when he is trying to reveal his feeling to his friends, they do not share his fascination. Hi is thinking to himself about what is happening to him, "And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself", was hidden from other people "all that was open." (Chekhov).
If to look at the story from the different angle, one can notice that these two people represent Russian citizens of that time. The story was written in 1889, at the end of the nineteenth century, and this period was a breakpoint in the life of the country. In a couple of years, Russia would change under the influence of a set of revolutions. At that moment, people were tired of the lifestyle they had. Chekhov depicts Russia as the country which forces its citizens to sacrifice their dreams and desires, and live the life of good manners. One can imagine the society of that time: wealthy people go to the resorts, rich men are unfaithful to their wives, and more and more women are becoming "intellectual". (Chekhov).
Apart from this, there is another important theme in which Chekhov seems to be interested, and it is human desire to be happy. Gurov and Anna, just like everyone else on the planet, are looking for happiness. They are discontent with everything they have, their life seems mundane and boring, and they do not feel anything towards their spouses. Obviously, they have been looking for an adventure for a long time before they meet each other. This new love they have makes them feel alive. However, it seems that people are never happy, no matter what they do and what they have. Davis argues that every person has its own route to find happiness, and some fortunate souls find it virtually without effort (para. 9). Looking at the protagonist of The Lady and the Dog, one can realize that happiness cannot be found at all, because there is not any secret of happiness. Gurov was not satisfied before meeting Anna, and when he fell in love with her, he did change, but he still was not happy. In the final scene of the story, they sit in the room, trying to decide how they can be together without violating social norms. They both understand that they are only happy when they have each other, and just as long as the secret of happiness is seemingly revealed, there is something else on their way. As Davis says, "For Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov, happiness will always lie just out of reach."" (para. 9).
To sum up, in his The Lady and the Dog, Chekhov manages to combine the description of contemporary situation in the society with the eternal philosophical topics. Chekhov's language and writing style help create a vivid picture in front of the reader's eyes. Describing a man and a woman committing adultery, he shows how people are always looking for happiness, and even if they are close to it, they fail to enjoy it, because they choose to live according to the societal norms.