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The Lady with the Pet Dog

by Anton Chekhov

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Compare and contrast “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov and “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Joyce Carol Oates.

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Chekhov's version of the story is written from the man's standpoint, involving himself and Anna, a woman (with a pet dog), who he meets on vacation.  They begin an adulterous affair.

The man (Dmitri) is used to having affairs, and they generally end with his disgust over how something so beautiful becomes so ordinary--every time.  He has nothing but a superficial relationship with his wife.

When he meets Anna, and then they ultimately part, he believes it to be just another one of his flings.  He waits for the memory of their time together to fade with time, but he cannot forget her.  Dmitri goes to find her in her home town.  She has also been missing him terribly, and though horrified that he has sought her out where she lives, she agrees to travel to Moscow, where he lives, to see him.  Hence, the affair resumes.

There is a child in the story: Dmitri's daughter.  At one point he walks with her, drops her off at school, and continues on to meet Anna.

When they are together, Anna and Dmitri cannot seem to find any hope of happiness, as both are married, but still they continue to see each other.  Seeing himself in the mirror one day at her hotel, he sees himself as an older man with a young woman, and he wonders what she sees in him.  At the end of the story, there is a sense that though they know it will be difficult, Dmitri and Anna will continue with the affair, looking for a solution, however difficult.

In Oates' version, the story is told from Anna's viewpoint. Whereas Chekhov relays in a chronological order, in four parts, Oates writes her version in three parts; the parts do not follow a chronological order, and it is not until the third part that the entire story, in the order in which the events actually take place, is made clear.

The story is set in the United States, whereas Chekhov's version was set in Moscow and its surrounding areas.

The story refers to Anna's lover, but in this version, the lover has no name, he has a son who is blind, and the lover has the dog.

There are many similarities, except that this version shows us the inner turmoil of Anna more than that of her lover.  And whereas she suffers in Chekhov's version, the description in Oates' version is much more poignant for Anna, and we learn that she is not only terribly unhappy, but suicidal.  We also get a glimpse of Anna's husband in Oates' version as they clumsily make love the evening that the lover comes to town.  In this we get more information regarding the husband as a real person, whereas Chekhov's version paints him more as a shadow.

Chekhov's version leaves the reader hanging, not simply because there is no clear plan between the two, but also because Dmitri's reactions are often so bland.  However, Oates' style is very different, perhaps reflecting the...

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differences in these two characters.  In Oates' version, Anna, still downhearted and suicidal (perhaps a more passionate main character?), is able to believe that somehow the relationship (though seemingly hopeless) will work out; at the end, she surprises her lover with excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of a future together.

In both stories, Anna sees herself as a low and vulgar woman because of her infidelity; she is unable to face her unhappy life with her husband and so continues on in the affair.  Both versions fail to provide clear closure, and the reader is left to wonder, as do the main characters, exactly how the lovers will ever solve their dilemma.

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Joyce Carol Oates's “The Lady with the Pet Dog” is a modern American retelling of a classic Russian story, “The Lady with the Little Dog,” by Anton Chekhov. Which of the two stories is the better story?

While readers of modern literature may enjoy Oates's short story because of its stylistic approach (which is more in vogue with its use of common, ordinary characters and the vernacular and the stylish ambiguities of post-modern literature, along with the more feminist slant), the story written by the consummate craftsman, Anton Chekhov, is arguably stylistically superior. That this style is worthy of merit to modern readers is proven by the success of the modern author Raymond Carver, who has long admired and imitated Chekhov's economical style.

In contrast to the literary reflexivity--Oates recounts at length the introspection of her female character--Chekhov keeps his narrative to what one review calls "a concise evocation of the complexity of an intimate relationship." He uses minor details to support emotional states rather than describing the state in a conventional manner. Further, Chekhov's descriptions of nature reflect a character's emotions. For instance, in the first section of the story, after Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna dine in Yalta, they walk and talk to each other, and their conversation is composed of remarks about nature that reflect their feelings:

...the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it. They talked of how sultry it was after a hot day.

Another subtlety of Chekhov's story is his use of impersonal constructions that suggest the subjectivity of the perceptions of the characters. For example, such phrases as "it seemed" and "it appeared" preface what Anna and Gurov perceive. Clearly, there is an artistry to Chekhov's creation of memorable settings that contributes greatly to creating mood. For instance, while the two lovers are in Oreanda, Chekhov writes,

Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings--the sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky--Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects....

Chekhov's switching to the first person at times in the narrative, such as in this passage, also serves to place emphasis upon the genuine affection of the lovers. Interestingly, Chekhov's signature "zero ending" is not unlike the ending written by Joyce Carol Oates; they both suggest new beginnings, although Oates's seems, perhaps, more optimistic. 

In summation, the stylistic devices of Chekhov are more definitive and, for this reason, some readers may prefer it to the story of Oates. 

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