Different people view love in different ways. Some say it is the most amazing feeling which makes people do unbelievable things. Others say love is the consequence of overflow of emotions which is why it cannot last forever. There are also people who believe that true love does not exist. Nevertheless, all of these people agree that love – whether it is true or not – affects people’s lives greatly, changing their habits and perspective on the world. A great Russian writer Anton Chekhov represented love and its effects in his short story “The Lady with the Dog”. The story makes a claim about love and morality, and according to Chekhov’s work, love can never exist normally if it not supported by social expectations of morality. Thus, people may love each other, but they should do it within certain social limit; going beyond these limits makes people face a lot of pressure.
On the contrary, Chekhov’s characters went beyond the limit. The main characters – Dmitri Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna – are two married people who begin an affair while resting in sunny Yalta. They are both unhappy with their marriages and seek something different. Anna Sergeyevna, who is young and naïve, tries to stop herself from doing something “sinful”, but she falls for Gurov’s charms and cheats on her husband. Gurov, on the contrary, is quite experienced in affairs. He has been cheating on his wife for a very long time which was why he was confident about approaching Anna Sergeyevna. Their affair – although initially nothing serious – has led to both falling in love. The love they both feel for each other is forbidden, and brings pain to both people. Nevertheless, they continue their secret meetings, hiding from their families and hopelessly trying to resolve the situation (Chekhov, 1995).
Thus, the question comes to mind while analyzing main characters’ resolutions. Do they really believe they can be together? Do they think that they will leave their families and be with each other? Do they think such an outcome is possible? Chekhov did not provide readers with the clear answers, but it is not hard to guess. Anna Sergeyevna and Gurov will not be together; they will not be able to break the chains they are in, and the secret affair they are having will not turn into something bigger. Gurov will not leave his wife, and Anna Sergeyevna will not leave her husband. The only way for them to be together would be possible if there was some outside force which would break the bonds they are having. Unfortunately, Chekhov said nothing about such a force which was why the main heroes were most likely to stay the way they were.
Nevertheless, the author used ambiguity in his story in order to show that nothing in the world was one-sided. There are different approaches to everything, even to betrayal and affair. Gurov’s actions are obviously immoral considering that he is married. Nevertheless, Chekhov suggested that love could justify Gurov; but should it? Can love justify Gurov’s affair and lies? Should he be forgiven and given a second chance? Gurov’s actions answer these questions. He had never tried to be honest with his wife, and never gave her any explanations or excuses for his behavior. Thus, his behavior represents his overall happiness with his life. He may be upset or disoriented with his life because of his sudden love, but he does not really do anything radical to change the situation. Gurov himself is very ambiguous because he loves, but sticks to his old habits.
Anna Sergeyevna, on the other hand, feels her betrayal strongly since she considers it to be sinful and wrong. At first, she is even afraid of Gurov despising her, but her emotions overcome her doubts. It is also ambiguity because Anna Sergeyevna goes against her nature; and although she suffers, she finds happiness in being with Gurov and torturing herself for such behavior.
Thus, main characters’ examples make the readers question love and morality issues presented in the text. As it was mentioned before, love is an emotion that affects people greatly, but they can never go beyond it if it goes against social expectations of morality. Love should not go against morals because this way people will be doomed to face people’s misunderstanding and critics. Those, who try to avoid or escape morality, will eventually get trapped in their own consciousness. An example can be found with Gurov. Although he seems to be happy, he is actually going through a lot of difficulties, and he cannot understand how to calm himself down.
Morality, in this case, is not only a social thing which makes one act in socially acceptable way; it is also an issue of one’s ethics and principles. Anna Sergeyevna went against her principles which was why she faced a lot of doubts and remorse; Gurov, on the other hand, felt very strange as if he had lost his balance because of the new emotions he had experienced (Chekhov, 1995). A third party can judge both characters, but there is something else that should be judged, too. It is the social system which has led to people’s affairs because they were expected to get married even if they were not in love. People had to act in a certain way which led to them being unfaithful and hypocritical. Everybody wanted to look nice in front of others, but hid his or her real face behind.
Interestingly, the setting also contributes to the questions of morals, love and society raised in the text. The main characters meet in Yalta which is a place where people rest and have vacations. It is a seaside resort city full of tourists and travelers. Some come to Yalta with specific goals in mind (Gurov is one of them). The sea creates an image of freedom, of being true to oneself. Walking on the beach represents trying something new which does not bring main characters down. Thus, sea resort is a place where new things happen, and where people do something they would have never done at home. The short story has such words: “The sea had roared like this long before there was any Yalta or Oreanda, it was roaring now, and it would go on roaring…”; it implies to unstoppable movement of life, and the stronger (or upper) force which united main characters (Chekhov, 1995).
The author also used his characters’ descriptions to show their inner emotions and changing attitudes. The main characters are the ones who feel and care deeply while their spouses are portrayed cold and calculating. It is done in order to make an affair look more human-like where everything can be justified. Gurov, for example, has transformed greatly over the course of the story; he started understanding love because he had experienced it himself. Chekhov described Gurov’s change with such words: “And only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love — for the first time in his life” (Chekhov, 1995). At first, Gurov thought about ending the relations, but soon he realized the true feelings behind it. Chekhov described the love as one husband and wife had; it was also loved that was present among great friends (Chekhov, 1995). With such descriptions, the author proved that the real love existed, but people should be very careful in order to save it.
Thus, it can be said that the entire work represents a struggle between what one wants and one is moral. Although the main characters had made their decisions, it was not them the author was speaking to. Chekhov appealed directly to the audience encouraging readers to make the decision for themselves. The readers have to make a decision whether acting like Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna was right and whether love justified such actions.
The issue of the story is not only about love vs. morality, it is also about personal choice. Being a person one wants to be is a major theme of the work. Gurov, for example, could never fully become a person he wanted or could be because of the chains he put on himself. That was the reason he behaved the way he did, and his love to Anna Sergeyevna was his try to free himself.
In the conclusion, it is important to say that Chekhov’s work is a great psychological story with complex, but realistic characters who face difficulties and make tough choices. Readers may agree or disagree with them, but they cannot stay the same after reading the great work of a great writer.
Chekhov, Anton. Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories. Ed. David Magarshack. London: Penguin Classics, 1995. Print.