Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In “The Lady with the Dog,” Chekhov provides a masterly portrayal of human psychology, demonstrating how one’s expectations of life can be overturned by unpredictable reality. At the outset of the tale, Gurov is shown to be rather cynical and an egocentric opportunist in his attitude toward women. Coldly analytical about his own emotions and his numerous relationships, he has categorized his lovers into three types—the carefree, the intellectual, and the predatory. However, he discovers in his relationship with Anna Sergeevna something new and unexpected. Love for the first time becomes an emotional experience that is deep, sincere, and touching. Significantly, the woman who created this effect on him is not depicted as being a dazzling beauty; he himself realizes how strange it is that this small woman, not distinguished in any way, has become the center of his life. Love, Chekhov suggests in this story, can transform even the most ordinary people and lives into something unique and extraordinary.
Chekhov’s exploration of the process by which Gurov discovers that his preconceived notions about women are illusory illustrates one of the writer’s broader concerns. Throughout his career, Chekhov emphasized the necessity of exposing falsehood or hypocrisy in society and of espousing the truth, honest and unconditional. Thus, he highlights Anna Sergeevna’s despair over the hypocrisy of her marriage to her husband and Gurov’s indignation over the falsehood permeating his regular existence in Moscow. Chekhov often articulated his belief in humanity’s inalienable right to absolute freedom, and he has instilled this ideal into his two protagonists. In their longing to break free from the fetters of deceit marring their relationship, Chekhov’s characters aspire to the kind of beauty and dignity glimpsed by Gurov as he sat with Anna Sergeevna by the sea outside Yalta. Chekhov’s narrative illuminates both the value of this ideal and the difficulty of attaining it.