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 symbolism is present in "The Lady with the Pet Dog"?

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A very important symbol that comes towards the end of the story is actually the mirror that Gurov sees himself reflected in just as he is about to "make a joke" to Anna, having decided that their relationship must end. Of course interestingly, what he sees in the mirror changes his view as he sees himself for who he really is for the first time and then is able to see his relationship for what it represents. The reflection that Gurov sees in the mirror causes him to realise that, for the first time in his life, he has fallen in love. Note how the text describes this epiphany to us:

His hair was already beginning to turn grey. it struck him as strange that he should have aged so much in the last few years, have lost so much of his looks. The shoulders on which his hands lay were warm and quivering. He felt a pity for this life, still so warm and exquisite, but probably soon to fade and drrop like his own. Why did she love him so? Women had always believed him different from what he really was, had loved in him not himself but the man their imagination pictured him, a man they had sought for eagerly all their lives. And afterwards when they discovered their mistake, they went on loving him just the same... Time had passed, he had met one woman after another, become intimate with each, parted with each, but had never loved. There had been all sorts of things between them, but never love.

Thus we can see that the mirror becomes a symbol of self-understanding in the short story. Literally, Gurov sees himself, but symbolically, the vision of himself triggers an important epiphany that moves beyond his physical appearance to how he has led his life and his interactions with others. Seeing himself for who he really is moves him from treating Anna like just another casual seduction to realising that he was in love with her "properly, thoroughly," and that this was the first time in his life that he had experienced this.

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What are some of the cultural and universal symbols in "The Lady with the Pet Dog"?

A symbol can refer to a particular object, character or action, and this excellent short story contains a number of different symbols that can be considered to be both cultural and, at the same time, universal. This is perhaps most clearly seen when Gurov returns to Moscow after spending his holidays with Anna Sergeyevna away from the city. Although initially he anticipates the joys he will experience again in his home city and feels that he will quickly forget Anna Segeyevna, he finds instead that his recent experience with her only serves to highlight the way that the activities that he and his friends engage in point towards a massive emptiness and inability to communicate about what is really important. Note what the author says in the following quote:

The rage for card-playing, the gluttony, the drunkenness, the continual talk always about the same thing. Useless pursuits and conversations always about the same things absorb the better part of one's time, the better part of one's strength, and in the end there is left a life grovelling and curtailed, worthless and trivial, and there is no escaping or getting away from it--just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison.

The activities of Gurov and his contemporaries--the gambling, the eating and the drink--are symbolic of a bigger and more disturbing kind of emptiness that Gurov finds very oppressive and is something that he feels entrapped by. This is of course a very important symbol as it makes him relish the freedom that he finds in his relationship with Anna Sergeyevna. This is a universal symbol as every generation engages in a series of similar activities to prevent them dwelling on their own emptiness.

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