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The Lady with the Pet Dog

by Anton Chekhov

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What other stories short stories can be compared and contrasted to Anton Chekhov's "The Lady With The Dog"?

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There are at least two major Hollywood movies that seem to be takeoffs or knockoffs of Chekhov's story "The Lady with the Pet Dog." One isFatal Attraction(1987) and the other isPlay Misty for Me(1971). In both movies a man gets involved in what he expects to be a casual affair, a one-night stand, with a woman who is a stranger and then finds that he can't get out of it. Both movies, unlike Chekhov's story, are thrillers, but what gives them serious meaning is the fact that the man in each case is bored, has a little free time on his hands, and treats the woman like a mere sex object. Evidently the writers involved with the movies saw Chekhov's story as moralistic, with the moral being that using people can have painful consequences or that using sex for recreational purposes can be dangerous.

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Another story that invites comparison with Anton Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog" is a story actually written as a response to Chekhov's narrative: Joyce Carol Oates's "The Lady with the Pet Dog." In this work by Oates that is written in a cyclical structure with three partially overlapping sections rather than the linear plot structure, a woman's attempt to redefine herself in a romantic affair is described, and, it is the female character who asserts herself and wishes to continue rather than the male character as in Chekhov's story.

Along with a different plot struture, Chekhov's story differs thematically from that of Oates's story.  Two sentences extracted from the narratives point to these differences. In "The Lady with the Dog," a sentence reads, "they still had a long, long road before them," while in "The Lady with the Pet Dog," a phrase reads,"it was beginning all over again." Clearly, the differences implied by these statements are essential to the understanding of the themes of the two stories by Chekhov and Oates.

Point of View also has an affect upon the development of the conflict in the two stories.  The change from male to female protagonist changes the pace and narrative perspective of each story. The setting of nineteenth-century Russia presents different attitudes toward marriage and divorce than twentieth-century America does; thus setting affects the stories, as well.  Character, too, is developed differently in each story, especially in the ways that internal conflicts are developed. 

Certainly, then, the comparison and contrast of the two stories, "The Lady with the Dog" and "The Lady with the Pet Dog," invite examinations of the essential elements of short stories:  plot structure, theme, character, point of view, and setting.

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One story that invites many comparisons and contrasts with Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” is Kate Chopin’s tale titled “The Storm.” Both works deal with secret adultery. Both works involve adultery in which both adulterers are married and have children. In both stories, the adulterers are temporarily and geographically separated from their spouses and stand little chance of being discovered. In both stories, the adulterous relationships are initiated by the men, and in both stories the men seem to assume that further adultery will occur in the future. This assumption is only implied in Chopin’s story; it is made fairly explicit at the conclusion of Chekhov’s tale. There, the narrator describes how the adulterous couple

spent a long while taking counsel together, talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long at a time. How could they be free from this intolerable bondage?

"How? How?" he asked, clutching his head. "How?"

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.

Yet despite these similarities between the two works, various differences also present themselves. Thus, in Chekhov’s tale the woman regrets the affair (at least momentarily), while in Chopin’s story the woman seems to have no misgivings. In the Chekhov story, the affair endures for days, while in Chopin’s work the affair is, at least for the moment, a one-time thing. In Chekhov’s tale, the two adulterers are of roughly the same social class; in Chopin’s text, the male is higher than the woman in social status. In Chekhov’s work, the woman feels contempt for her husband, whereas this does not seem to be true in Chopin’s story, in which the husband is presented in highly sympathetic terms and seems admired even by his adulterous wife.

These two stories, then, invite the kind of analysis which, by exploring both their similarities and their differences, can help reveal the distinctive qualities of each particular text.

Something extra: Comparison and contrast, in might be argued, are two of the most fundamental operations of the human mind. We learn many things, and learn about many things, by comparing and contrasting one thing with another. Comparison and contrast are especially potent methods to use when analyzing literature. By comparing and contrasting one text with another, we are far more likely to dig into the nitty-gritty details of both texts. We are less likely to skim the surface of either. Comparing and contrasting almost compels us to pay attention to aspects of each text that we might otherwise overlook. This is especially true when we are using different modes or schools of analysis. For instance, a Marxist might see certain aspects of these stories; a feminist might see certain other aspects. By comparing and contrasting the two kinds of analysis with one another, we are likely to notice even more details than if we used just one mode of analysis rather than both.

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