The Comparison of the Point of View in “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov and “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Joyce Carol Oates

Essay 2008 4 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


The Comparison of the Point of View in “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov and “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Joyce Carol Oates

“The Lady with the Pet Dog “, written by Joyce Carol Oates, presents the theme of a passionate love affair between two adulterers. The action of the story is set in Nantucket in the 1970s. The short story bears a striking resemblance to Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”, created in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite undoubted dissimilarities in the settings of the two stories, they both present a colourful account of the secret relationship between a womanizer and an attractive woman who are trapped in loveless marriages. Although each couple deals with infidelity and forbidden love, the same theme is shown from a different perspective – Anton Chekhov portrays the love affair from the male point of view while Joyce Carol Oates’ story is seen with the eyes of a female protagonist.

The third person limited narrator in “The Lady with the Dog” acquaints the reader with major events of the story through the male protagonist’s inner thoughts and emotions. Chekhov’s main character, Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov, an affluent, middle-aged banker, is initially described as nonchalant and arrogant. His attitude towards women had been shaped by his reluctance to his wife whom he “secretly considered as unintelligent, narrow and inelegant”.[1] Moreover, his unsatisfactory previous love affairs made him perceive women as “the lower race”.[2] At the beginning of the story, Gurov considers his mistress, Anna Sergeyevna, as “something pathetic”.[3] However, his insensitive approach towards her gradually transforms into genuine, warm and tender emotions.

As Cynthia Scott points out in her article “Tale of Two Tales”, taking into account the fact that the story is the reflection of Dmitri’s point of view, he leads the direction of the plot.[4] Their relationship is maintained due to Gurov’s decision to follow Sergeyevna to S________ although she chose to return to her husband. As for Dmitri, his stay with his family in Moscow makes him aware of his true love to Anna. The character notices how shallow his life without this genuine feeling was. As Robert Fulford writes in his critical essay, “Surprised by Love: Chekhov and ‘The Lady with the Dog’”, Gurov’s realization of his feelings to Sergeyevna initiates his “moral regeneration”.[5] The protagonist’s metamorphosis brings about the redefinition of his values. The discovery of genuine love helps him to comprehend how worthless his previous adventures with females were. What is equally important, the main hero is conscious that the strength of Anna’s love may help him to become a better person.

Cynthia Scott makes the interesting remark that “while we get some glimpse of Anna Sergeyevna’s interior emotions through her dialogue, she is seen mostly through Gurov’s impressions of her.”[6] All the reader is likely to learn about the female character’s feelings is revealed through the poetic aspect of Anna. The protagonist depicts his mistress as a beautiful, intelligent woman with a melodious voice. Although the reader is acquainted with Dmitri’s inner life, the characters reflections and emotions concentrate solely on Sergeyevna. Robert Fulford points out that the creation of Anna’s ideal image does not make the reader perceive their love as “sinful, but rather innocent”.[7] The love affair between two adulterers seen from the male perspective seems to be completely devoid of feelings of guilt and remorse. Instead, there is an emphasis on the purity and goodness of the characters’ love in the story. Whiteness that recurs in “The Lady with the Dog” serves to reflect the innocence of their relationship. For instance, Anna is accompanied by a white Pomeranian dog whose aim is to guard the heroine’s purity.

Joyce Carol Oates presents the theme of marital infidelity in a completely new light. First of all, the reader of “The Lady with the Pet Dog” is invited into the mind of the female protagonist. At the beginning of the story, there is an emphasis on Anna’s weak points. Robert Paul, in his article “The Modern Woman in Joyce Carol Oates’ The Lady with the Pet Dog” describes the heroine as “a victim of her emotions, [who is] repeatedly considering suicide.”[8] She has hysterical inclinations and does not accept herself. Throughout the story, the protagonist remains in the state of confusion and indecisiveness. Her unstable feelings continually influence the relationship with her lover. Her emotions towards him vacillate between love and hatred.[9] The heroine’s inner thoughts and feelings serve to affect the action in the story. Besides, she is defined as a passive protagonist.[10]

Robert Paul states that Oates’ aim was to depict an image of the modern woman through the character of Anna. However, the author’s vision does not seem unaffected by literary stereotypes. Robert Paul suggests that the protagonist’s behaviour exemplifies the stereotype of the sinful Eve: “Although it is the stranger that first approaches her on the beach, it is Anna who invites him into her cottage and, subsequently, into her bed.”[11]

The lack of other characters’ participation in the story determines the reader’s point of view of the love affair. Since Anna’s husband’s thoughts are never revealed and there are no manifestations of his love in the story, the reader does not feel sympathy for him. What is more, because of the suffering and the sense of guilt their relationship entails, their love is not perceived as sinful but arouses compassion.

Last but not least, the theme of the story is not only limited to Anna and her lover’s feeling. The protagonist’s love for herself is worth mentioning. While the heroine is initially described as “a simple woman without respect for herself, a woman insane with love”[12], the end of the story presents her personality in a completely new light. Even her lover is bewildered by her calmness and satisfaction. It seems that the love helped the heroine to discover her true self.

To sum up, the comparison of the point of view applied in the two short stories allows the reader to understand how the change of perspective influences the story. The male attitude towards the love affair in “The Lady with the Dog” is dominated by feelings of hope and passion. Gurov’s emotional involvement and admiration for his mistress contribute to the creation of romantic atmosphere in the story. As for the female protagonist in “The Lady with the Pet Dog”, she is governed by feelings of guilt and shame. Her inability to free herself of the awareness of sin makes the reader imagine their love as burdensome. Finally, both protagonists experience the transformation within the story. While Gurov discovers the real love for woman for the first time in his life, Oates’ heroine begins to accept and respect herself due to the power the love brings.


Primary Sources

1. Chekhov, Anton, “The Lady with the Dog,” In: My life and other stories. London: David Campbell, 1992, pp. 51-62.
2. Oates, Joyce Carol, “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” In: Marriages and Infidelities. London: Basingstoke: Picador, 1972, pp. 63-76

Secondary Sources

1. Fulford, Robert, “Surprised by Love: Chekhov and the ‘Lady with the Dog’,” 2004, Queen’s Quarterly, 6 Nov. 2006. http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-125714192.html
2. Paul, Robert, “The Modern Woman in Joyce Carol Oates’ The Lady with the Pet Dog,” 2006, Associated Content, 6 Nov. 2006. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/21776/the_modern_woman_in_joyce_carol_oates.html
3. Scott, Cynthia, “Tale of Two Tales,” 2006, Associated Content, 5 Nov. 2006. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/61241/tale_of_two_tales_chekhovs_and_oatess.html


[1] Anton Chekhov, “The Lady with the Dog” in My life and other stories (London: David Campbell, 1992), p. 52

[2] Chekhov, “The Lady with the Dog,” p. 52.

[3] Chekhov, “The Lady with the Dog,” p. 53.

[4] Cynthia C. Scott, “Tale of Two Tales,” (2006): 5 Nov. 2006 http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/61241/tale_of_two_tale_chekhovs_and_oatess.html

[5] Robert Fulford, “Surprised by Love: Chekhov and ‘The Lady with the Dog’” in Queen’s Quarterly (2004): 5 Nov. 2006 http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-125714192.html

[6] Scott, “Tale of Two Tales.”

[7] Fulford, “Surprised by Love: Chekhov and ‘The Lady with the Dog.’”

[8] Robert Paul, “The Modern Woman In Joyce Carol Oates’ The Lady with the Pet Dog,” (2006): 6 Nov. 2006 http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/21776/the_modern_woman_in_joyce_carol_oates.html

[9] Paul, “The Modern Woman In Joyce Carol Oates’ The Lady with the Pet Dog.

[10] Scott, “Tale of Two Tales.”

[11] Paul, “The Modern Woman In Joyce Carol Oates’ The Lady with the Pet Dog.

[12] Paul, “The Modern Woman In Joyce Carol Oates’ The Lady with the Pet Dog.


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Title: The Comparison of the Point of View in “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov and “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Joyce Carol Oates