The Lady with the Pet Dog

by Joyce Carol Oates

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In the first part of the story, a woman, Anna, sees her lover while she's out with her husband. She tells him not to come over to her. Later, she goes home with her husband and they make love. He thinks she's ill, but she's thinking about her lover and about the uncomfortable relationship she has with her husband.

The second part of the story takes place six months before. Her lover drives her to her sister's house in Albany from Nantucket, where she met him. They talk in the car; she says that he'll be glad to be rid of her. She thinks that she doesn't like her life and that he seemed like something that would save her. Then she reminds herself that one person can't save another.

She gets home and can't connect to her husband. She feels like a ghost in her life. One night, she cuts herself in the bath on purpose and then just wanders around, not feeling much of anything. She retells the story of the concert from the beginning, and then her lover calls after she goes home from it. He begins coming to see her and says that his wife uses their children against him. He continues flying out to visit her. Anna considers following him home and killing him and his family idly.

The third section goes back to where Anna meets her lover. He's holding his blind son's hand on the beach in Nantucket. She traveled there to get some time away from her husband. The man sketches her on the beach. They start to see each other and then the story returns to the time when he drove her to Albany. Anna returns to her husband. She misses her lover. They go to the concert. She begins seeing her lover when he flies to Ohio to be with her. At the end, she feels she's been married to him all along -- that he is her true husband -- and that because of it, she never betrayed her actual spouse.


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“The Lady with the Pet Dog” covers the major phases of Anna’s adulterous affair with a married man. Anna, a married woman, meets her lover for the first time at a beach. After they decide to terminate the relationship, he drives her to Albany, and she eventually returns to her husband in Ohio. In the central scene at a public concert, the lover secretly confronts her; the next day, they resume their affair, meeting in hotels. Finally, Anna has a vision of happiness that remains ambiguous. This chronology of events, however, is broken up into three overlapping sections, and each narrates successively more events.

The first section consists of the central scene at the public concert. By beginning in the middle of events, the story challenges the reader to discern who the characters are and how they are related. The silent encounter between Anna and her lover goes unnoticed by everybody else; it seems so unreal that she feels as if she had imagined him. Her husband notices that she is not feeling well, takes her home, and they make love clumsily, symbolizing their unhappy marriage.

The second section goes back six months, starting with the car ride to Anna’s sister in Albany, New York, leading up to the central scene, and ending with the resumption of the affair. Although Anna feels the car ride bonds her to her lover, her emotions are confused and conflicted. She rehearses significant conversations in her mind but is capable of only trivial utterances. She knows that she and her lover do...

(This entire section contains 566 words.)

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not have a future together, yet she does not want to return to her husband. When she does, she feels like a “nothing” and contemplates and attempts killing herself.

Because the next key events of Anna’s encounter with her lover at the concert and of the clumsy lovemaking with her husband are repeated in the second section, the reader now knows that the characters in the first and second sections are indeed the same and what the chronological relationship of these two sections is. Anna’s lover calls her the morning after the concert. He persuades her to meet him, and they begin to see each other in hotels when he is in town. However, she remains unhappy, even suicidal, because she realizes that he will not leave his wife.

The final and third section tells the entire story, this time from beginning to end. Anna is spending some time away from her husband at her family’s old beach house in Nantucket, Massachusetts. There she meets a man, his nine-year-old son, and their dog. The boy is blind, something the man later claims his wife uses against him. As they begin a conversation, the man makes several sketches of Anna, one of which shows her with his dog (hence the story’s title). Although both are married, they eventually begin an affair.

Confused and insecure, Anna decides to end the affair and to visit her sister in Albany, where her lover takes her. Then events already contained in one or both of the previous sections are recounted: the drive, the concert, and the resumption of the affair. Section three continues with Anna again feeling suicidal because her life is stuck in repetitions. The section ends, however, with Anna’s joyous vision of her affair as a true marriage; her resulting happiness surprises her lover.