illustration of a man looking out a window at a woman in a hat and dress walking her little dog

The Lady with the Pet Dog

by Anton Chekhov

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What is the conflict of the story "The Lady with a Dog" by Anton Chekhov?

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The story “The Lady with a Dog” by Anton Chekhov opens in the summer resort at Yalta where the main character, Dmitri Gurov, starts an affair with “the lady with a dog,” Anna Sergeyevna, even though he is married with two children. She too is married but her husband is not with her; young and inexperienced, she is easy to seduce. The romance starts off as all his other flings have. The woman acts in predictable ways, which bores Dmitri a little, but still he pursues the affair as he has all the others. When Anna must return to home to her husband, he says goodbye and never expects to see her again.

When Gurov gets back to Moscow, he is relieved to be in a place that has so much meaning for him. Gurov returns to the rhythms of his daily life, fully expecting to forget about Yalta and Anna. But life in Moscow does not satisfy as it once did. Slowly Moscow begins to be drained of meaning. This is the conflict that grips Gurov: how to find meaning in his life when everything starts to feel tedious and all of the people strike him as crude; he is disgusted by their everyday concerns. There is no beauty, no timeless visions of the land around him, no sense of truth.

He begins to crave his summer memory of Yalta, tormented by memories of Anna and his time with her. He travels to her town to seek her out, and they soon resume their affair. But the relationship is no longer predictable as it was before. In fact, he is stunned to realize that he has fallen in love with Anna; he realizes this is the first time he has ever fallen in love. Gurov and Anna must be careful and secretive, but he feels that this secret life is his true inner life, the only life that matters. His visible life is riddled with falsity. He suddenly understands that all people must live with this dichotomy between what they show to the world and the truth that they carry inside of them. By falling in love, quite unexpectedly, he realizes this love is the one thing that will save him from the falsity of his own life. Gurov’s search for meaning, which is heightened by his increasing sense of his own mortality, has transformed the conflict, so that now Gurov is convinced that meaning can only be found with Anna. When he is with Anna, Gurov is able to connect to the world around him, feeling it come alive for him. He will do anything to keep his world alive.

The ending is ambiguous. Is the conflict resolved? Will Gurov find happiness, or will he remain trapped in the gray unhappiness that threatens to take over his days? Love seems to be the answer. Neither Anna nor Gurov figure out how they will be able to find a way to free their love from secrecy. And yet, they...

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still carry their love for each other, and it’s this love that suggests that maybe Gurov, who is himself starting to turn gray with age, will not remain trapped by gray days, and that Anna will find an escape from the gray fence that encircles her life. Their love, if made public, would most likely destroy the lives they have already established. Still, for now, they live with the perhaps naive hope that they will find a way to work things out. They both hold tightly to the belief that “a new and splendid life would begin.”

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The conflict in "The Lady With the Dog" is that Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov is a serial philanderer who looks down on women as inferior beings he calls "the lower race," but at the same time, he cannot get along for "two days" without one. He is uncomfortable around men and finds that he is attractive to women and gets along well with them, despite his disdain for them. He finds intimacy appealing, but also notes that it rather quickly and inevitably turns into a negative complication in his life.

When he meets Anna Sergeyevna, the conflict in Dmitri's life changes; he falls in love with Anna, but neither of them are free to marry. They carry on their clandestine affair, which causes Anna great shame. Ultimately, it is not known how, if, or when the two lovers might be able to live together openly—or whether the love they feel for one another is real and enduring or merely a function of each other's unavailability.

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The central conflict is the pull between loyalty and infatuation, security and the unknown, and the failure to truly know if the latter is something real or illusory.   Both the man and woman are trapped in shallow lives, both seek a more satisfying relationship, a spark that makes life worth living.  For example, when the pair are at dinner,

"Then both continued eating in silence, like strangers, but after dinner they walked side by side; and there sprang up between them the light jesting conversation of people who are free and satisfied, to whom it does not matter where they go or what they talk about."

However, despite these positive indications of a chance for more "alive" living, neither one is ready to give up what they know or feel comfortable with in their lives.  The story concludes with a sour grapes sort of line:  ""There's something pathetic about her, anyway," he thought, and fell asleep." 

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The conflict of defining what is moral/morality is at the center of the story. Should the lovers stay with their spouses even if they do not love them, and are in love with one another?

The viewpoint seems to be that it would be wrong to live a lie and that they should leave their spouses and be together because they truly love each other.

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