The Power of Love
“The Lady with the Pet Dog” are both stories of two unhappy pair of people who find love through unexpected extra-marital affairs. In both stories, the lovers are not seeking to have an affair, but meet randomly while on vacation without their spouses. The characters all share a sense of unhappiness in their marriages, but find in their lovers’ eyes an acceptance leading to self-discovery and fulfillment.
Because of the bond formed between the lovers each comes to the realization that life must include the other, for only in the relationship are they made whole and able to find their reason to live. Chekhov and Oates’ short stories share a common theme that true love is a random, transformative event which brings about a feeling of acceptance and completion that serves to give a purpose and meaning to life. Similarly, each story’s pair of characters meet based on chance and proximity.
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In Chekhov’s story, Dmitri first notices “a young woman… walking along the embankment; behind her ran a white spitz” (266).
In Oates’ story Anna relates the first sight of her lover: “A man … approaching her…[a] small … golden dog, bound[ing] near ” (981). These brief introductions lead to the characters interacting; each couple aided by the dog found in the title, allowing an entry into conversation. In Chekhov’s story, “The lady sat down at the next table, three steps away from him… [he] gently called the spitz, and when the dog came over, he shook his finger at it” (267). This was the opportunity for Dmitri to meet his lover, Anna S..
In Oates’ story, Anna finds “her soul strained to fly outward, to meet with another person,” so she, “tied her hair back… and went down to the beach…[where] the man glanced around at her … [and] smiled” (981). Unlike Chekhov, Oates does not allow her male character to be called by name, allowing the female narrator, Anna, to have her emotions and uncertainty dominant. In both stories the narrative relates how the principle characters, though opposite in gender, are intrigued by their chance encounters and pursue their new acquaintances.
In Chekhov’s story, “after dinner they walked off together – and a light, bantering conversation began… Afterwards, in his hotel room, he [Dmitri] thought about her, that tomorrow she would probably meet him again. ” In Oates’ story, Anna “spent the rest of the day reading…She thought again of the man on the beach. She lay the book aside and thought of him: his eyes, his aloneness, his drawings of her. They began seeing each other after that. ” Both stories consummate the relationships.
In Chekhov’s story, Dmitri found his chance: “he looked at her intently and suddenly embraced her and kissed her on the lips… Let’s go to your place he said softly. In Oates’ story, Anna takes the initiative: “she heard herself asking if he would like to come in. She allowed him to lead her inside, to close the door. ” After they have made love, and after a period of silence and reflection, both female characters begin to feel the weight of their actions.
For Chekhov’s Anna, ten years younger at age 20 than Oates’ Anna, she had “a feeling of awkwardness, and an impression of bewilderment, as if someone had suddenly knocked at the door… the ‘lady with the little dog,’ somehow took a special, very serious attitude towards what had happened, as if it were her fall. ” Oates’ older Anna, impulsively questions her lover, “Do you … do you love me? ” And her lover answers, “You’re so beautiful” (983). Having felt so alone before, so uncertain, Oates’ Anna absorbs this adoration and “this beauty, shy and glowing and centered in her eyes…” (983).
Later, like Chekhov’s Anna, Oates’ Anna also “felt a strange, idle fear, a sense of the danger that would not recognize her as the lady in the drawing, the lady with the pet dog. There was nothing to say to this man, this stranger,” and, “[t]his is the end of one part of my life” (984). Chekhov’s Anna also tearfully felt: “I’m a bad, low woman, I despise myself and am not even thinking of any justification… I swear to God that I couldn’t control myself any longer, something was happening to me, I couldn’t restrain myself” (269).
Oates’ Anna was also scared but “it seemed to her necessary to give in; she had to leave Nantucket with that act completed, an act of adultery, an accomplishment she would take back to Ohio and to her marriage” (983). Though each pair did not look for an adulterous relationship, each pair found just that. After the initial romantic attraction and feelings of loneliness were satisfied through passion, each set of lovers still felt the relationships were temporary and meant to end. After hearing from her husband, Chekhov’s Anna declares “It’s good that I am leaving … [it’s] fate itself” (270).
Oates’ Anna believes: “Now something will happen. It will come to an end” (984). Even Dmitri thought “[a] month would pass and Anna … [will] be covered by mist in his memory” (272). In contrast to Chekhov’s story, Oates’ lovers do not part easily. In their last drive together, Anna’s thoughts varied from believing her lover would be relieved when he left her to the thought that “this man was her savior, that he [has] come to her at a time in her life when her life demanded completion” (977). Oates’ Anna is undecided, clinging, yet pushing her lover away.
“She put a hand on his arm, a claim. He turned to her and smiled and she felt that she loved him,” but, “at the same time she understood … she would leave him soon, safely, and within a few days he would have fallen into the past …” (977). No matter what their plans, the affairs’ end doesn’t come easily to any of the lovers. Their minds continue to be filled with memories of their love. Each male character travels to see their lovers again, going to a public theatre and concert respectively.
Chekhov’s Dmitri realizes when he sees Anna S. that she has changed him, “when [he] looked at her, his heart was wrung, and he realized more clearly that there was now no person closer, dearer, or more important for him in the whole world; this small woman… now filled his whole life, was his grief, his joy, the only happiness he now wished for himself” (274). Chekhov’s Anna also confesses “I think only of you [Dmitri] all the time, I’ve lived by my thoughts of you” (275). Oates’ characters are not as verbally expressive, but their actions convey their inability to separate, “she went to him at his hotel.
She wept, pressing against him, demanding of him, ‘What do you want? Why are you here? ’” (985). “I want to talk about last August,” he replied and “they became lovers again” (985). With these declarations and actions the lovers’ bonds of attraction begin to evolve into deeper, intimate unions forged by compatible needs which their respective spouses cannot understand or satisfy: the characters are finding true love for the first time. After realizing their love, the principle narrators also find within themselves a feeling of acceptance, and fulfillment with their new relationships.
In “The Lady with the Little Dog,” Dmitri determined that “by some strange coincidence, perhaps an accidental one, everything that he found important, interesting, necessary, in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, which constituted the core of his life, occurred in secret” (276). His relationship with Anna fulfilled him in a way that his overt life could not. “For him it was obvious that this love of theirs would not end soon … at that moment he saw himself in the mirror” (276).
The mirror functions in both stories as the catalyst for the narrator’s awareness of their fulfillment in the newly forged relationship. In the mirror Dmitri sees his gray hair but “only now, when his hair was gray, had he really fallen in love as one ought to—for the first time in his life” (277). For Oates’ Anna, as she again prepared to leave her lover, “she happened to catch sight of his reflection in the bureau mirror … preparing also to leave… and she realized that he existed in a dimension quite apart from her … she felt a miraculous calm.
This man was her husband truly … they [have] been married haphazardly and accidentally for a long time… she [loves him] above any other person in the world, above even her own self-pitying sorrow and her own life” (987). With the principle characters’ discovery that their love affair was now their primary relationship, giving them emotional security and a fulfilling sense of completion, they also realize that their lives have changed direction. Oates’ Anna concludes that her lover is “her destiny.
And she does not hate him, she [does] not hate herself any longer; she [does] not wish to die; she [is] flooded with … certainty. Anna realizes, a “gratitude, [and] pure selfless energy … she [knows she has] been behaving correctly; out of instinct” (987). Oates’ Anna concludes love is her “triumph,” overcoming unhappiness with a new “beginning” (987). Chekhov’s Dmitri changes his goal from one of secrecy and stolen moments to thoughts of “how they could free themselves … it seem[s] that … the solution [will] be found, and then a new beautiful life [will] begin” (277).
The short stories “The Lady with the Little Dog” by Anton Chekhov and “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Joyce Carol Oates both tell of true love found despite the shame of marital infidelity. Though the stories unfold with opposing gender’s center of consciousness, differing chronological development, and unique expositive style and emphasis, the stories have a common theme of the redemptive and transformative power of true love. Through similar plots, climactic scenes, and open endings, the stories reveal the two pair of lovers’ fulfillment in their first real love and their new sense of direction and desire for a fresh start with their love in the open.