The Lady with the Pet Dog Themes
by Anton Chekhov

The Lady with the Pet Dog book cover
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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Lady with the Dog,” Chekhov provides a masterly portrayal of human psychology, demonstrating how one’s expectations of life can be overturned by unpredictable reality. At the outset of the tale, Gurov is shown to be rather cynical and an egocentric opportunist in his attitude toward women. Coldly analytical about his own emotions and his numerous relationships, he has categorized his lovers into three types—the carefree, the intellectual, and the predatory. However, he discovers in his relationship with Anna Sergeevna something new and unexpected. Love for the first time becomes an emotional experience that is deep, sincere, and touching. Significantly, the woman who created this effect on him is not depicted as being a dazzling beauty; he himself realizes how strange it is that this small woman, not distinguished in any way, has become the center of his life. Love, Chekhov suggests in this story, can transform even the most ordinary people and lives into something unique and extraordinary.

Chekhov’s exploration of the process by which Gurov discovers that his preconceived notions about women are illusory illustrates one of the writer’s broader concerns. Throughout his career, Chekhov emphasized the necessity of exposing falsehood or hypocrisy in society and of espousing the truth, honest and unconditional. Thus, he highlights Anna Sergeevna’s despair over the hypocrisy of her marriage to her husband and Gurov’s indignation over the falsehood permeating his regular existence in Moscow. Chekhov often articulated his belief in humanity’s inalienable right to absolute freedom, and he has instilled this ideal into his two protagonists. In their longing to break free from the fetters of deceit marring their relationship, Chekhov’s characters aspire to the kind of beauty and dignity glimpsed by Gurov as he sat with Anna Sergeevna by the sea outside Yalta. Chekhov’s narrative illuminates both the value of this ideal and the difficulty of attaining it.


(Short Stories for Students)

A view of Moscow in the summer of 1912. Published by Gale Cengage

Morals and the Meaning of Life
Although Gurov lightly enters into an adulterous love affair with Anna that soon turns painful and complicated, it would be misleading to say that the main theme of ''The Lady with the Pet Dog'' is one of moral corruption or sin. In fact, it is through this adulterous affair that Gurov discovers his humanity and even his moral center. Gurov has always taken women for granted and has treated them without compassion or respect. During the course of his affair with Anna, however, he becomes more and more concerned about the consequences of his actions. Chekhov's treatment of morality is complex; he is not conventionally moralistic, yet his story suggests a strong personal morality. Gurov and Anna truly love each other, and their bad marriages are unfortunate aspects of their lives. Little sympathy or consideration is offered to the respective spouses of the adulterous couple. Anna grieves as soon as they have made love, but more because she is worried about what Gurov will think of her than because she feels that she has betrayed her husband: ‘‘It is not my husband I have deceived,’’ she believes, ‘‘but myself.’’ Gurov errs in thinking that their affair is unimportant, but this is not so much a moral error as an underestimation of his own moral character. He learns that he is not the cynical lover that he thought he was and suffers terribly for having placed Anna in an unhappy situation.

If Chekhov posits moral values here, they are such values as honesty, seriousness, and true love. Deception more than infidelity causes Anna and Gurov to suffer, and at the end of the story they know that they must make painful and difficult decisions which will allow them to live together openly and honestly. After he becomes involved with Anna, Gurov discovers that ''everything that was of interest and importance to him, everything that was essential to him, everything about which he felt sincerely and did...

(The entire section is 1,197 words.)