What is the theme of the story "The Lady with the Pet Dog" by Chekhov?
Chekhov's "Lady with a Pet Dog" might be compared with two modern motion pictures: Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction. In both these films a man gets involved with a woman without considering the consequences. He is just bored or restless; he has nothing better to do; he has time on his hands. Then the relationship in both cases becomes intensely serious. Chekhov seems to be saying that people should not use other people as objects but should respect them as complex fellow humans. Chekhov stresses the fact that the viewpoint character is terribly bored in a boring place and instigates the adulterous liaison just for diversion, just to have something to do. The opening sentence of the story is marvelous. Everyone at the resort is bored. The biggest event they have to talk about is that a new visitor has been seen on the promenade walking a little dog. I suspect that both Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction were inspired by Chekhov's story. The structure of his story is really simple: a man starts an affair because he is bored or curious or mildly attracted, and then finds he can't get out of it. This sort of thing is not at all uncommon in real life.
Chekhov's highly characterized and widely anthologized "The Lady with the Pet Dog" suggests that love is an overwhelming force that can take hold of people and change them, for the better or worse. The love between Gurov and Anna begins casually and quickly moves beyond infatuation into love. In this story, one of the major ideas is that love is beyond comprehension and control. Love is clearly more the cause than the solution of problems.
The story provides an excellent model for the study of how a story’s structure is governed by its major theme. The conflict is between Gurov’s reluctance to love and become involved, on the one hand, and his being drawn into love with Anna Sergeyevna and finally being consumed with it, on the other.
Chekhov neatly divides the story into parts, so that Part I comprises an exposition, and Part II the beginning of the complication. The divisions after this point are more concerned with the time sequence and locations of the story, so that the crisis does not occur until paragraph 119, with the climax in paragraph 120; some readers might claim that the crisis and climax occur earlier, at the intermission of the concert, in paragraphs 90-104. Either interpretive possibility would offer a reader the opportunity for discussion about the shaping of the story in accordance with the idea of the power of love.