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In the beginning of the story, Dmitri’s characterization of being withdrawn and a philanderer supports the conclusion that he has a lack of love in his life.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.
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