The Lady with the Pet Dog

by Joyce Carol Oates

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 388

"Take the one you like best," he said, and she picked one of her with the dog in her lap, sitting very straight, her brows and eyes clearly defined, her lips girlishly pursed, the dog and her dress suggested by a few quick irregular lines.

"Lady with pet dog," the man said.

In this scene, Anna and the man first talk to each other and make a connection at a seaside resort, just as in the Chekhov story. Anna has been noticing him and his blind son for a few days, even feeling some intimacy from seeing the man's bare feet, but she remains aloof. He quickly draws a series of pictures of her, and she chooses to keep the one with the dog: a sketch which shows her as prim and girlish. She becomes the woman of the title, the lady with the pet dog, rather than merely Anna. After this, Anna and the man begin their affair.

In January her lover spied on her: she glanced up and saw him, in a public place, in the DeRoy Symphony Hall. She was paralyzed with fear. She nearly fainted.

Anna thinks their summer affair is over, but they run into each other. Despite feeling torn about her own husband and her feelings of shame, Anna resumes the affair. She reacts with deep emotion to seeing her lover again.

In another part of the city she had another husband, a "husband," but she had not betrayed that man, not really. This man, whom she loved above any other person in the world, above even her own self-pitying sorrow and her own life, was her truest lover, her destiny. And she did not hate him, she did not hate herself any longer; she did not wish to die; she was flooded with a strange certainty, a sense of gratitude, of pure selfless energy. It was obvious to her that she had, all along, been behaving correctly; out of instinct.

At the end of the story, Anna tells herself that the man with whom she has been having an affair is her real husband, so she is not really betraying the man she calls her husband. At this moment, she feels liberated, energized, and joyful, affirmed in having acted from "instinct." In her prim way, however, she calls this behaving "correctly."


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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384

This story revolves around Dmitri Gurov, a rather misogynistic man, and the newest object of his interest, Anna Sergeyevna. They are both married, and they begin an affair during a weeklong vacation in Yalta which ultimately causes Dmitri to fall in love.

Dmitri is twice Anna's age, and part of the narrative centers around how refreshing he finds her youth. At the end of a conversation with an official, Dmitri thinks, "These words, so ordinary, for some reason moved Gurov to indignation, and struck him as degrading and unclean. What savage manners, what people! What senseless nights, was uninteresting, uneventful days! The rage for playing cards, the gluttony, the drunkenness, the continual talk always about the same thing." This passage shows how Dmitri sees high Muscovite society—it's not a flattering picture. Dmitri cannot get his mind off of Anna, and he is highly aggravated with what he sees to be a shallow and unfulfilling life. He is no stranger to affairs, finding his wife to be shrewish and unlikeable. Overall, Dmitri is very unsatisfied with his life until he meets Anna, and this near obsession over her is shown here.

Anna spends the affair conflicted. She is not very fond of her husband, just as Dmitri dislikes his wife, but the secrecy involved in having an affair is very mentally taxing for her. The theme of unfulfillment is never quite resolved the story; it ends with the two having a conversation where "they . . . talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long stretches of time . . . and it was clear to both of them that . . . the most complicated and difficult part of their journey was just beginning." After Dmitri tracks Anna down in her hometown of St. Petersburg, the two continue their affair, with Anna traveling to Moscow under the guise of visiting a doctor. Anna grapples with the love she feels and the knowledge that she is sinning, and this is never quite resolved.

The story has always felt achingly mundane to me. There is no real climax or ending resolution—it's just story of two people who fall in love amidst real life happening around them. These quotes show the reality of their situation, rather than dramatic action.

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