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The Lady with the Dog

27 Dec 2016Literature Essays

Born at Taganrog, Southern Russia, on 29th January 1860, Anton Chekhov’s stories instill a mood of melancholy. The emotions of loneliness, helplessness and strange thoughts appear to work miraculously in the words of Anton Chekhov. The author’s mind seems to traverse under the autumn sun along the paths of tedious and squabble roads, muddy streets, the filthy houses and amidst the distorted faces of men and women, becoming slaves to their greediness, and moving along the zigzag paths of their lives. Anton Chekhov started writing short stories when he was just a medical student at the University of Moscow. After his graduation in 1884, he became a freelance journalist and started writing comic sketches. He used simple language yet subtle enough. In his stories, we feel as if real life action is happening in front of our eyes.

The second half of the 19th century was a witness to the new social, political and economic order of the Russian Society. The old bourgeoisie and aristocratic class began to decline giving space to new capitalists’ environment with new awakening and enlightenment. Turgenev and Tolstoy showed the destabilized social structure and Dostoevsky presented the intellectual conflicts. But it was only Anton Chekhov who was the first to give the emotional appeal in the stories, the world without heroes or villains but the world catching the upheavals raging in the heart and souls of the people. Chekhvo made his characters fixed in dilemma of Shakespeare style, “To be or not to be.” Characters find themselves in a perplexing situation in a society.  

They are feeling themselves conscious about their wrong doings in the society, yet are engaging themselves in everything wrong. In a very dramatic tone and linguistic accuracy, writer perceives the inner strengths and weaknesses, and their psychological perceptions in very gay and humor manner, which most popularly came to be know as “the Chekhovian manner.” In his words, “I long to embrace, to include in my own short life, all that is accessible to man. I long to speak, to read, to wield a hammer in a great factory, to keep watch at sea, to plow. I want to be walking along the Nevsky Prospect, or in the open fields, or on the ocean — wherever my imagination ranges.” (Nebraska Center for Writers, Online Edition)

Anton Chekhov’s, “The Lady with the Dog” written in 1899, is a continuous attempt of a man to search for happiness. From the very eyes of protagonist, Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov, Chekhov, writer tries to depict how the man is deprived of his own free choice by the framers of laws and institutions. The society has forced Gurov to lead a life according to the norms set by the society. “He was talked into marrying in his second year at college,” (Chekhov 2002), and was forced to stay with woman whom he did not like and believes her a “shallow, narrow minded, and dowdy” (Chekhov 2002). His life became hell and the situation that he faced was unbearable for him. He found marriage as caged walls of prison where he finds himself almost impossible to live a life as he wishes. Marriage has put number of difficulties before him.

Dmitri had begun to despise her and to be unfaithful to her and most of the time spoke ill of women, and treated them as “the lower race”, yet his nature seemed to be so perplexed that he could never be able to remain also without woman. He would often feel himself bored in the company of men, but felt himself at ease in the company of women. His attractive nature and posture is enough to charm women towards him and there seems to be some force, which was making him get attracted towards women.

This implies that Dmitri wanted to get relief from boredom through adultery, but this same relationship with the other women too became intolerable for him. He now started finding the attraction towards women as just temporary reprieve from his tedious and boring life. Thus, Dmitri Gurov is seen as a pitiless and a callous man who thinks women as only a piece of commodity to fulfill his lustrous desires and to have some fun and excitement at the cost of other women’s chastity. And also to show his male ego that he felt to be dampened while living with his wife, who for him seemed to be most unbearable.

Anna’s too feels herself a fallen woman after her affair with Dmitri as she is herself married. After her affair, she considers herself as despondent. She too is frustrated with her family and her frustration but willingness to give her life a new look, she take rounds at Yalta with her Dog. She says to Dmitri, “I wanted to live! To live, to live! . . . I was fired by curiosity . . . you don't understand it, but, I swear to God, I could not control myself; something happened to me: I could not be restrained.” (Chekhov 2002) She is even able to convince her husband that she is suffering from illness and wants complete mental and emotional rest, which she can find only in Yalta. She is also perplexed by the attraction that she feels for Dmitri and it’s the self-disgust that she amply shares with Dmitri.

She began to feel herself insignificant and disgraceful and at the same moment, she began to feel intense love for Dmitri. When he came to her town, she felt that their love affair is only taking them towards doom, but the fun and feeling of satisfaction that she was finding with Dmitri cannot be compared to all the society’s conventions. She totally felt excited with the life that she was secretly sharing with Dmitri.

Writer explains emotional complexity of the protagonists demonstrating subtle yet powerful style. For example, at the very first site of Anna at the theater in her hometown, Chekhov puts across Dmitri's romantic craving: “she, this little woman, in no way remarkable, lost in a provincial crowd, with a vulgar lornette in her hand, filled his whole life now, was his sorrow and his joy … He thought and dreamed.” (Chekhov 2002) Chekhov’s disposition is seen in his few words that he uses to convey entire meaning.

He writes in a way as if it appears he is painting an entire canvas, incorporating the entire scenario but which has intense emotional appeal. To convey the feelings of the characters and their inherent nature, author makes the use of colors. For example, Dmitri's hair has been described as gray in color, and his dress is also gray, whereas the sea at Yalta is immersed with color as “the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it.”(Chekhov 2002)

Chekhov has made Yalta a place of romance, with beautiful oasis. For writer and protagonists, this is a place of living a full life, a life of joy and color, a freedom and intimacy. This place for these lovers is like a heaven on Earth away from all worries and to understand themselves and each other. But amidst this, there is a sense of displeasure by Anna for Dmitri as according to her Dmitri thinks her as a “common woman,” but for Dmitri, Anna is captivated by his kind and exceptional manners but these are her false notions about him. They both have a kind of selfish desires crushed by their past disappointed lives and their hope for the future. He used the Sleep of Consciousness technique in his novels.

Chekhov crafted the characters of Anna and Dmitri giving in depth about their past lives and their hopes and dreams for future.  As said by the editor, Donald Rayfield, The Lady with the Dog speaks more about what happened in the initial years then what happened in the end. There is very little description on what is happening in the present rather than what happened in the past. (Rayfield, 2000) Dmitri may be considered as a seducer, a man who is trying to romanticize with a Lady with Dog but is feeling complex with dogma, of duping Anna on one hand and realizing that he has been cheating himself in the past. He can be understood as a man who is enchanted by the lady but later redeemed himself.

The story is full of ambiguity: Dmitri's had both, a sense of love as well as a sense of insecurity. Every time the beauty of Yalta left Dmitri perplexed, and Moscow seems to him unexciting, as though he is chopped in a “madhouse or in penal servitude.” (Chekhov 2002) Both Dmitri and his wife never looked at each other eye to eye and his wife thinks herself to be “Staid, dignified, and intellectual”. (Chekhov 2002)  Dmitri feels that she loves him without any feeling for him. Anna too thinks about her husband in a similar fashion. She thinks her husband makes love to her in a very awkward way.

The beginning of the story pierces through one of the resort of Yalta’s and brings out smell of Yalta’s surroundings with its resounding sounds and various attractions, its roads, various eating joints, about the stately cypresses, the soft warm lilac color of the sea under the bright sunlight and the golden band of moonlight across it at night and all over the romantic scenario penetrating into the sea bed.   

Chekhov ponders upon the inner struggle of the main protagonists as they are trying their level best to prevent the passion burning within them, because they have family behind them. The lady and the Dog is a passion and romantic part of man that wants to reveal itself shattering all the norms of the society. The Lady with the Dog raises the most crucial question of our life: Is Marriage the most fruitful preoccupation and should society force person into institution of marriage without his or her choice? To remain faithful with a person whom you don’t love is the most difficult part of your life and you search several reasons for being unfaithful. Both protagonists knew it was wrong to be unfaithful yet they moved forward with their dreams and passion. And the answer is simple. To give happiness to each other and both felt that the relationship that they enjoyed between their spouse and lovers was totally different.

As society itself suggests that the love lust relationship between already married persons cannot last long. It always ends in a sad note, and their fate is always the fate of the dejected lovers. Chekhov’s feeling of sympathetic towards lovers at the end is quite visible. Though their affair ended yet with a promising hope to bring about the change in the nature of wives. The writer is very successful in making us understand the emotions and the relationship that is so profound and yet so complex and subtle. In this relationship there is complexity in simplicity.

Chekhov makes the readers feel pity when he pours in his words about the miserable and unfortunate persons, and his efforts are always to make the readers feel colder. When characters cry, words reveal the feelings and mood of writer himself. Chekhov is able to craft very beautifully and ardently the simple subject like adultery and spreads the smell of life all around.

REFERENCES

  • CHEKHOV, Anton.(2002). Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories, 1896-1904. (Translated by Ronald Wilks, Introduction by Paul Debreczney). Penguin Classics.
  • Nebraska Center for Writers. “Anton Chekhov on Writing” Retrieved on December 19, 2007
  • Rayfield, Donald. 2000. Anton Chekhov: A Life. Northwestern University Press.

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