Visions

Fooling Around and Falling In Love
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     "The Lady with the Pet Dog," a short story by Anton Chekhov in 1899, was the inspiration for another author, Joyce Carol Oates, who decided that she would elaborate and comment on the perspectival effect of the male point-of-view in Chekhov’s story. Perhaps she thought that the male main character’s views gave the plot and situations a careless mood, while she wanted to shift the perspective and make the story much deeper, richer, and much more touching. However, when examining Chekhov’s original work with this story, it is easy to see there is true depth, quality, and importance in the lessons learned by the main character through his experiences with his choices.
     In Chekhov’s version of "The Lady with the Pet Dog," we are given the series of events taking place in the life of a man, Dmitry Gurov, who is portrayed through his own narration as a light-hearted, almost careless character. He initiates a love affair with a stranger whom he later finds to be named Anna Sergeyevna, just as he has initiated several love affairs of the like before. He is married and with children, but when it comes to his wife, he "…had begun being unfaithful to her long ago- had been unfaithful to her often…(170)." He meets Anna on the street in Yalta and without a second thought, becomes involved with her, though she is also married. He does not seem to care for her a great deal at first, and really seems to be in denial about his feelings and his situation most of the time. The day he meets this woman, he thinks to himself, "there is something pathetic about her (171)," and immediately after their first night together, "Gurov was already bored with her; he was irritated by her na´ve tone, by her repentance, so unexpected and so out of place (173)." Yet, he continues the affair in an almost callous way, reaping of it his common pleasures. Through his eyes, we see Anna these same ways: na´ve, repenting, irritating. The reader may even stop and ask him or herself why Dmitry is wasting his time with an affair he so often does not even enjoy, at least not on a level above the sexual nature of it.
     In this version of the story, Anna’s perspective is brought out very little; we are only given glimpses of what she must be seeing, feeling, or thinking through the few things Gurov admits to himself about his actions through his narration. When the two secret lovers separate and Anna travels back to be with her husband, Gurov muses to himself that "in his manner, his tone, and his caresses there had been a shade of light irony, the slightly coarse arrogance of a happy male…(175)." He also states that "this young woman whom he would never meet again had not been happy with him (175)." With these things said, he lets her go, and in the freedom of the moment, decides to take a vacation.
     Here is where the mood begins to shift. Previously, Dmitry Gurov has been displayed as nothing but a slipshod character, but while he is relaxing in Moscow, he falls madly into obsession. Anna Sergeyevna’s memory becomes a enthrallment for him, for "when he shut his eyes he saw her before him as though she were there in the flesh and she seemed to him lovelier, younger, tenderer than she had been, and he imagined himself a finer man than he had been in Yalta (176)." His character, seen as somewhat static during the first few pages of the story, now becomes very dynamic. Still, the reader is not sure of whether such feelings will last, or whether Dmitry could easily slip back into his old careless ways. The answer is a real lover’s jealousy.
     When he reaches Anna’s home in S------, he paces back and forth, "and by now he thought irritably that Anna Sergeyevna had forgotten him, and was perhaps already diverting herself with another man…(177)." With this jealousy, he comes disheartened but all the more desperate to see her. When noticing a playbill, he thinks to himself "it’s quite possible that she goes to first nights." Clinging to chance, he goes to the theater and scans the faces in the crowd for hers. Luckily, chance is on his side and he spots her as her husband leaves her side to go to the lobby. As they meet again, Anna is horrified to see him and rejects him almost immediately, but promises she will "come to Moscow (178)."
     As months go by and Anna makes repetitive visits to Gurov in Moscow, their relationship begins to thicken and mold into something Dmitry had to take seriously and realistically. "He had two lives: an open one, seen and known by all who needed to know it, full of conventional truth and conventional falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances, and another life that went on in secret (179)." He would meet Anna in a secret rendezvous every now and then, but the sheer fact that it must be in secret and one must always be careful not to be seen begins to wear down on the both of them. Their meetings become more and more serious, and Anna spends many of them crying. As he puts it, "Anna Sergeyevna was growing more and more attached to him. She adored him, and it was unthinkable to tell her that their love was bound to come to an end some day (180)." Instead, Gurov finds himself thinking, "this love of theirs would not be over soon, that the end of it was not in sight (180)."
     He makes a move to divert her attention from the seriousness of the matter, a habit from the former static side of his character, and catches the reflection of himself in the mirror. He realizes the mistakes of his former life, in that "in the past he had met women, come together with them, parted from them, but he had never once loved; it was anything you please, but not love. And only now when his head was gray he had fallen in love- really, truly, for the first time in his life (180)."
     Though Gurov begins this affair with thought of only himself and his pleasures, his habits and attitudes are slowly stripped away from him as he falls more and more in love with this woman, and their secret romance becomes both tragic and beautiful. In the end, he comes to realize that he is in love for the first time in his existence, and that going back to the old ways, the old careless, callous ways, will not be an easy or even possible task. The reader can see all of this through the eyes of the main character, and though the sad female perspective of Oate’s rendition of this story may seem deeper on the surface, there is nothing richer than a lesson well learned, and a man well-changed.

Katherine Kennon (2004)