The Lady With the Dog
Main Ideas Of Lady With the Dog by Anton Chekhov
The Misogynistic Themes Presented in The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov
The way women are viewed in society is ever changing. For example, women can now vote and hold higher positions in their job field. Do not let this fool you, there is still much more to be done in terms of gender equality. These rights and freedoms that are considered normal in 2015 heavily contrast the way that women were treated just a century ago. While some are aware of the dehumanizing treatment of women many years ago, to live it is an entirely different experience. In 1899, in the city of Yalta, which is part of what is now the Crimea Republic, the short story The Lady with the Dog written by Anton Chekhov takes place. While being totally unacceptable, this treatment was considered normal back then. The misogynistic undertones of this story are nothing short of obvious, the sexualisation of Anna Sergeyevna’s youthfulness, the objectification of her as a woman, and the treatment of women as if they were inferior to men express this quite strongly. Viewing The Lady with the Dog through a feminist lens allows readers to realize how the protagonist, Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov, is a misogynist.
Repeatedly throughout the early portion of this short story, Dmitri sexualizes Anna’s youthful appearance and demeanour. Her obedient nature and small build are especially attractive to him, seemingly because this would almost automatically put Dmitri in the dominant position, which he says that he feels more confident in. This is stated early on:
He was bored and ill-at-ease in the company of men, with whom he was always cold and reserved, but felt quite at home among women, and knew exactly what to say to them, and how to behave; he could even be silent in their company without feeling the slightest awkwardness. There was an elusive charm in his appearance and disposition which attracted women and caught their sympathies. (Chekhov 66)
This elusive charm he speaks of is normal for any man to feel like he does in that time period, because women were expected to treat men with the utmost respect, no matter the circumstance. After meeting Anna, and of course feeling as if he had won her over, he reflects on Anna’s youthful nature. He recalls, “. . . [O]nly a very short time ago she had been a schoolgirl, like his own daughter, learning her lessons, he remembers how much there was of a shyness and constraint in her laughter, in her way of conversing with a stranger . . . He recalled her slender, delicate neck, her fine grey eyes” (Chekhov 68). The fact that Dmitri compares Anna to his daughter is not only mildly disturbing, but indicates how old Anna is in comparison to Dmitri; a married man with three children: a twelve-year-old daughter and two school-aged sons. Clearly, Dmitri likes his mistresses young and innocent looking. Sexualizing youthful characteristics is a classic misogynistic trait, ranging from shaming school-aged girls for showing their shoulders at school to fetishizing younger looking girls. Dmitri possesses the latter part of the trait.
Throughout the passage, woman are spoken of, mainly by physical attributes, as if the protagonist were describing furniture or food. For both of those objects, age presents wear and deterioration, Dmitri believes that the same goes for older women. This objectification demonstrates how women were valued in his life. When describing his current wife, whom he is frequently disloyal to, he focuses mainly on her physical aspects. Due to how dull he thinks that she is, the way he describes her personality sounds just as dull. Since his wife has matured, grown as a person since their marriage, and is no longer young and “pretty” according to Dmitri’s standards, he has lost interest. His wife is introduced in the beginning of the story. Dmitri describes her as:
. . . [A] tall, black browed woman, erect, dignified, imposing, and, as she said of herself, a “thinker” . . . and though he secretly considered her shallow, narrow-minded, and dowdy . . . It was long since he had first begun deceiving her and he was now constantly unfaithful to her, (Chekhov 66)
As stated before, Dmitri was constantly cheating on his wife, meaning that he had many one night stands. He refers to these women that he involves himself with as “the lower race” (Chekhov 66) and says “. . . [T]he ample lessons he had received from bitter experience entitled him to call them whatever he liked.” (Chekhov 66) Dmitri also talks about his sexual relationships, and how once they begin evolving into something more, he becomes annoyed, implying that women are nothing more than sexual objects. He tells the reader:
“Repeated and bitter experience had taught him that every fresh new intimacy, while at first introducing such pleasant variety into everyday life, and offering itself as a charming, light adventure, inevitably developed, among decent people . . . into a problem of excessive complication leading to an intolerably irksome situation. But every time he encountered an attractive woman he forgot all about this experience, the desire for life surged up in him, and everything suddenly seemed simple and amusing. (Chekhov 66)
Basically, he likes being involved with women until they express some sort of emotion.
Dmitri sees women as purely sexual objects, and if any other emotion is expressed, other than lust, he is annoyed by her. He also mentions other occurrences where feelings have developed, calling “talk” unnecessary. To Dmitri, women serve no other purpose but to satisfy him sexually, yet another common belief amongst misogynists.
Overall, women are seen as inferior to men in this passage, not just demonstrated by Dmitri’s actions towards them, but his thoughts about them express this conceived classification as well. As previously stated, Dmitri has cheated on his wife countless times, prefers to associate himself with women because he feels superior to them and knows that they are obligated to respect him regardless of his behaviour, and refers to women as the lower race. Before Dmitri and Anna had sex, Anna breaks down, afraid that if they go through with the planned activity, that he will no longer respect her. She insulted herself a few times, “. . . I came here …. And I started going about like one possessed, like a madwoman … and now I have become an ordinary, worthless woman, and everyone has the right to despise me.” (Chekhov 70) While Anna is not wrong about how immoral it is to cheat on your spouse, a man would not have thrown this same fit. Dmitri, for example, feels no shame for being unfaithful to his wife, he goes about his life as if he were never married. This is learned behaviour; women, back in the time of this short story, were taught to please their husband, and that was their sole purpose. Men, on the other hand, were taught that women were meant to serve them, and that their wife is their property. For all that the reader knows, Dmitri’s wife could have been fully aware that he was being disloyal, but she probably felt that she was in no place to speak up on the subject. The underlying misogynistic themes in this passage really are not so underlying after all, and Dmitri does not fail to express how inferior women appear to him.
Using feminist criticism, one can clearly see that the protagonist of The Lady with the Dog is a misogynist. The misogynistic undertones in this story are very prominent; the sexualisation of Anna Sergeyevna’s youthfulness, objectification of the female characters, and treating women as inferior express these themes in very pronounced way. The year that this story was written in does not excuse Dmitri’s actions in any way, therefore 2015 should not excuse any misogynistic treatment either.
Description Of Love in Araby, The Fortune Teller, and The Lady with the Dog
Love is an extremely powerful emotion and can drive people to do some amazing things, while at the same time, can drive people crazy in a very bad way. In “Araby”, “The Fortune Teller”, and “The Lady With the Dog”, love is expressed in multiple ways under different circumstances. These feelings of love relate and derive from the same feelings of anxiety the characters get when thinking about what they want and what they could have. This drives them to the love they feel.
In the story “Araby”, the narrator is infatuated with a girl he has never met. He is experiencing intense anxiety about approaching the girl he is in love with. He fears he will never gain the courage to express how he feels toward her and let her know the love he feels so strongly for her. The boy longs for adulthood and is tired of the boring repetitive nature of school and childhood, as alluded to in this quote, “I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.” In this quote, the boy had just talked with Mangan’s sister, and now is entirely uninterested and bored by the demands of the classroom. Instead, he wants to think of Mangan’s sister, wants to think of the upcoming bazaar, wants to think of anything but what he’s doing at the moment. This scene shows the boy’s future frustration with the tedious details that prevent his desires from succeeding, and it also illustrates the boy’s difficulty in defining himself as an adult, even in the space of the classroom structured as a hierarchy between master and student. Just as dull lessons get in the way of the boy’s thoughts, by the end of the story everyday delays damage his hopes to purchase something for Mangan’s sister at the bazaar. In both cases, lack of differentness prevents the boy from fulfilling his desires. This scene expresses the boy’s navigation between childhood and adulthood. He sees the normal boredom of school as easy, unengaging, and repetitive. The desire he feels, on the other hand, is inspirational and freeing. His thoughts wander everywhere, instead of remaining attached to where they should be. Longing for the freedom of adulthood, the boy remains chained to the predictability of childhood. Much like longing to love this woman, he instead is chained to the loneliness of being afraid to talk to her.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, the narrator is “sick” but it is really mental illness. Her husband says that it is a curable illness like a cold that can be cured with rest, but from his actions of not wanting anyone to see her or talk about it, she is mentally ill and is depressed. Her husband’s relationship is very distant as he is spending a lot of his time in town and with patients. He wants to love her but he doesn’t understand her mental state especially with it being taboo at the time of the story. The husband represents facts a logic and thinking with his head, he is very straightforward and thinks about the science. Whereas the narrator is thinking with the heart. She is creative and wild and spontaneous and is always thinking and writing things down. She thinks very sporadically. The case for the narrator having won by thinking with her heart can be made with two main reasons. First, we don’t know how the husband would have reacted to her insanity, we were not sure if he would have gotten angry or physical, but instead he simply fainted. Because of this she is not denied any longer to continue creeping around. She is completely unbothered by him. Along with this, in the narrator’s mind, she has achieved liberation. Regardless of whether or not she gains back her sanity or whether he ever wakes up, she believes that she is free, which is a win. Today the world is dominated by head thinkers. People in power are trying to think and logically solve what will be the correct decision on paper in every situation. Many decisions i believe are made incorrectly due to the fact that the one making the decision will not take what their heart is telling them and only chooses to think about the situation logically.
Character Development and True Love in Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”
In 1899, Anton Chekhov published a short story of two lovers’ clandestine affair called “The Lady with the Dog”. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, the story’s main character, sees a young woman walking a dog on the sea-front in Yalta. It is said that everyone calls her the lady with the dog. One day, the lady sits next to Dmitri and he strikes up a conversation with her. He learns that her name is Anna Sergeyevna, and that she is visiting Yalta on vacation. He also learns that she is married, like himself. Over the course of a week, Dmitri and Anna grow close and spend a lot of time together. Dmitri, being used to affairs with many different women, sees Anna no differently from the rest at first. However, as time moves along and Anna is urged to return home, Dmitri realizes that his affair has turned into something much greater. For the first time, Dmitri feels as though he is in love. The character development of Dmitri in this story is used to support the progression of the main theme, true love.
In the beginning of the story, Dmitri’s characterization of being withdrawn and a philanderer supports the conclusion that he has a lack of love in his life. Chekhov’s description reveals that he is unhappy with his current situation. He looks down on women, especially his wife, and seems to dislike everything about his home and family. The narrator says, “[…] he secretly considered her [his wife] unintelligent, narrow, inelegant […] and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago – had been unfaithful to her often, and probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them ‘the lower race’” (252). It is made clear that Dmitri really has no true feelings towards his wife other than the ill-willed ones. He tends to view women as below him, and treats them as objects as seen clear by his multiple affairs. It would be fair to say that Dmitri is cold and unloving at this point in the story. This is spoken of in a literary overview: “Gurov at first seems to be a shallow philanderer whose view of women shows him to be without emotional or spiritual depth”. He has no regard for the women he is involved with physically. There is no emotional connection formed, even with his own wife. Many of these personality traits of being cold and disconnected can be attributed to the lack of love, or any form of strong positive emotion, in Dmitri’s life.
As time progresses with the affair, and Dmitri begins developing feelings for Anna, his personality changes dramatically. He begins to look at Anna as more than just another women. He shows his feelings, and his perspective on the world around him change. Dmitri goes from being bored and disconnected to being fascinated and deeply involved: “He told Anna Sergeyevna how beautiful she was, how fascinating. He was impatiently passionate, he would not move a step away from her…” (Chekhov 256). Dmitri is in love; although he does not realize this. He is no longer looking at Anna the way he views his past affairs. He is even holding her in a higher light than he does his own wife. As well as having stronger and more positive feelings towards Anna, Dmitri is having more positive feelings towards the world: “In reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects […]” (Chekhov 256). His natural and uncontrolled feelings towards Anna are making him a happier, or at least more content, person. The world that was once so boring and bland is now something beautiful. Dmitri’s personality and behavior change represent the presence of true love, whether noticed by Dmitri or not.
The change in Dmitri’s personality due to true love, or the lack thereof, is seen again in the story when Anna leaves to return to her husband. At first, still believing the affair is somewhat like the others, Dmitri returns to Moscow in a good mood. As a month goes by, he is convinced that the memory of Anna will fade away and he will no longer be affected by her. However, much to his dismay, Anna never strays from his mind. The narrator says, “[…] From time to time [Anna] would visit him in his dreams with a touching smile as others did. But more than a month passed […] and everything was still clear in his memory [….] Anna Sergeyevna did not visit him in dreams, but followed him about everywhere like a shadow and haunted him” (257). At this point, Dmitri is beginning to realize that something is different about Anna. Something new is happening that has obviously never happened before. Even when Dmitri is around his children he thinks of Anna. She is the only thing on his mind. Dmitri acknowledges that with previous affairs he would think of the women for only a month and then continue on as though nothing happened. However, with Anna a month has already passed and the memory of her is still fresh. Dmitri takes this heavily, and begins a downward spiral. He tries to carry out his life, but the thought of Anna prevails and he is paralyzed. Literary critic, Erik Huber, comments on this moment, “He wants to speak to others of his feelings for her, but nobody will listen. This eventually leads him to a great feeling of disgust [….] Gurov is so ‘indignant’ after this moment of personal crisis that he cannot sleep and finds that he is ‘fed up’ with his job and his children. He has no desire to do anything”. The fact that Dmitri is not with Anna is preventing him from living his life. He has become so involved with her and he is emotionally connected to her. His life in Moscow seems disgusting and uneventful. He no longer wants to carry out his life the way he has for so many years. This indicates that something has changed; and that change is Dmitri is in love.
Besides the apparent change in personality and behavior, Dmitri’s age and appearance, and his acknowledgment of Anna represent true love as well. In the beginning of the short story, Dmitri simply calls Anna “’the lady with the dog’” (251). This can be attributed to the fact that Dmitri is not emotionally connected with Anna, nor is he planning to be. He does not give her a name in order to keep her distant. As the relationship evolves, Dmitri calls her by her name. This action makes things personal, and signifies Dmitri’s growing love for Anna. In relation to this, when the reader is briefly introduced to Dmitri’s wife, her name is never mentioned. This represents the fact that Dmitri does not have a strong emotional connection to her. The only woman’s name in the story is Anna’s because Anna is the only woman Dmitri has ever loved. Going back to the beginning of the story, when Chekhov introduces Dmitri, he speaks of his ease in attracting women; “In his appearance, in his character, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favour” (252). Dmitri has no problem attracting women. There is something about him that attracts them, and he is very aware of this. It seems as if he uses the attraction to pull women in to the affairs he has. This attractiveness is how he allures Anna. In contrast, near the end of the story, Dmitri sees himself in the mirror and sees how much he has changed. Chekhov writes, “At that moment he saw himself in the looking-glass. His hair was already beginning to turn grey. And it seemed strange to him that he had grown so much older, so much plainer during the last few years…. Why did she love him so much?” (262). Dmitri looks distinctly different than he had when he first met Anna. His looks and age leave him questioning why Anna loves him. He speaks of how all the years of him being with women while he was young never left him with a feeling quite like the one Anna leaves him with. When he was more attractive and young, love had not yet reached him. Now, older and less handsome, he has finally found love. His appearance represents this change and journey to finding true love.
Dmitri’s character development, whether it be behavioral or physical, represents the transition to, and the theme of, true love in the short story “The Lady with the Dog”. Through Dmitri’s first encounter with Anna, their involved affair, her return home, and their continuation, Dmitri changes and evolves as a character. He grows older in appearance and personality, begins to see the world differently, and begins to see Anna differently; all because he is falling in love for the first time. This development is used to support the theme of true love in the story because Dmitri is shown to change with the growth of his love for Anna.
Chekhov, Anton. “The Lady with the Dog.” The Norton Production to Literature. 11th ed. Ed. Kelly J. Mays. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2013. 251-262. Print.
Huber, Erik. “An overview of “The Lady with the Pet Dog”.” Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2015. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
“The Lady with the Dog.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. Vol. 102. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.