According to Anton Chekhov, it is an artist’s obligation to “stat[e] a problem correctly” (60).  In your opinion, does Chekhov fulfill this obligation through his depictions of Gurov and...

According to Anton Chekhov, it is an artist’s obligation to “stat[e] a problem correctly” (60).  In your opinion, does Chekhov fulfill this obligation through his depictions of Gurov and Anne in "The Lady with the Pet Dog"?  If so, what “problem” does Chekhov invite us to consider?  If not, does Chekhov present us with the solution to a "problem"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that Chekhov fulfills his obligation to state a problem correctly in "The Lady with the Pet Dog." The problem he invites us to consider has to do with the complications involved in adultery. His story deals with only one of the many possible tragic consequences of entering into an adulterous relationship. In "The Lady with the Pet Dog" both parties are married, both have children, and both are bound to their spouses by marital laws which would make it impossible for them to get divorced. On top of that, they live in cities hundreds of miles apart. They enter into a sexual relationship casually while vacationing at a summer resort, but they become so strongly attached that they cannot remain separated after their vacations end. There is no solution to their problem. Chekhov specifically emphasizes their frustration and perplexity at the conclusion. That is the painful consequence of adultery for these two people in this particular story. There could be many other problems involved with adultery, including murder and suicide, loss of one's children, and so on.

Tolstoy dramatizes different consequences of adultery in his novel Anna Karenina. Anna loses her children, then loses her lover, and ends up committing suicide in a terrible manner by leaping in front of an oncoming train. Dante reserves a circle in his Inferno for lovers who commit the sin of adultery. The lovers are condemned to be whirled around a gigantic cavern by powerful winds for eternity. Dante meets Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo da Rimini at this cavern and hears their story. Tchaikovsky wrote a beautiful musical composition based on this episode in the Inferno. The concept of adulterous lovers being hurtled around a vast cavern by tornado-like winds is a good metaphor for the possible consequences of adultery. A good motion picture dealing with the subject is Fatal Attraction (1987), starring Michael Douglas as a married man who gets involved in a casual affair, very much like Gurov in Chekhov's story. Somerset Maugham deals with adultery in his novel The Painted Veil (which has been adapted to motion pictures three times). Sam Spade bitterly regrets getting involved with his partner's wife Iva in Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon. It might have been fortunate for Spade that his partner Miles Archer was murdered by Brigid O'Shaughnessy; otherwise Archer might have tried to kill Spade if he found out about what he and Iva were doing--and with a wife life Iva, Miles was sure to find out sooner or later.

Truthfully, I was not acquainted with the fact that Chekhov had maintained that it is an artist's obligation to state a problem correctly. However, he apparently did not maintain that it was an artist's obligation to offer a solution to the problem he states. One of the most impressive things about "The Lady with the Pet Dog" is the way the author leaves his two characters involved in a mutual problem they have created for themselves. One might say that they are metaphorically being whirled around and around in a great cavern by tempestuous winds. Chekhov has had a very strong influence on modern short story writers. They no longer feel obliged to come up with solutions to the conflicts they dramatize in their stories. Many of Raymond Carver's stories have endings reminiscent of his literary idol Anton Chekhov.




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The Lady with the Pet Dog

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