Themes in The Lady with the Pet Dog

Love: Love is central to Chekov’s narrative. The love between Gurov and Anna is the driving force behind their extramarital affair and their struggle to decide on a future course of action. Chekov does not resolve this conflict within the story. His goal was to display a ‘slice of life,’ without an easily digestible resolution. Some may read Gurov and Anna’s infidelity as an example of hypocrisy, immorality and a lack of respect for the institution of marriage. Others may read Gurov and Anna’s actions as a plea for freedom, outside rigid societal expectations. By refusing to provide a solid conclusion, Chekhov leaves the message of his text open to interpretation.

Public and Private Life: Love also pushes Gurov and Anna to consider the dichotomy between public and private life. The public life encompasses all the trappings of societal expectations—family life, marriage, ambition, reputation—while the private life is a truer reflection of inherent beliefs, feelings, and desires. Due to the inconclusive nature of the narrative, we are left wondering whether Chekhov’s characters will consider to obey this rigid division, or they will sacrifice his public reputation for love.

Expectation and Reality: The change that occurs in the two main characters can be seen as a kind of shift from innocence to experience, from expectation to reality. Each lover has an initial idea of what the affair means which proves to be false. Gurov expects the affair to be his usual fling, fun but soon forgotten. Anna expects to be steeped in shame for having slept with Gurov. The reality is that for both the affair is a meaningful and unforgettable experience, though it takes both lovers some time to acknowledge this fact.

Themes Examples in The Lady with the Pet Dog:

Part II 2

"Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful..."   (Part II)

In an interesting moment of reflection, Gurov (read: Chekhov) reflects on the value of the world’s inherent, natural beauty and the difficulty of attaining it. This beauty, he remarks, is lost and becomes ugly when people lose sight of it and forget their basic dignity, such as deceiving others, waging war, etc. This passage shows us how Chekhov's characters wish to be free of the deceit marring their relationship in order to aspire to the beauty and dignity described here.

"There was a water-melon on the table..."   (Part II)

Anna’s statement is really a question because she expects a response from Gurov. However, Gurov has had so many affairs that he doesn’t think of the moral implications of his actions because he expected it to happen and doesn’t want to discuss it. By waiting such a long time to respond, Gurov demonstrates his insensitivity to her agitation and his apathy towards questions of morality.

"that was nothing to Gurov..."   (Part III)

Whereas previously in the story Gurov cared very much about who was around them, in this scene we see that he has finally rid himself of the barriers between his public and private life---a theme that Chekhov explores in this story. Regardless of who is watching, Gurov wants to show Anna how much he cares for her.

"that personal privacy should be respected...."   (Part IV)

Chekhov reveals how Gurov now understands that his life has two aspects: the public, and the private. Gurov’s public life consists of things he pretends are valuable (his work, leisure, family life, and attitude towards women) while his private life contains his true beliefs, feelings, and desires, hidden from others. Having realized this, Gurov understands that everyone has public lives that they create to protect their true selves from others, and he wonders if this explains why everyone is so concerned with personal privacy.