Infidelity: A Quest for Novelty

This is another paper that I did for our Eng 11 class. I kind of enjoyed doing this, although it was very stressful, because I had to cram this whole thing.

What personal and societal challenges should one take in dealing with a monotonous and decidedly unexciting marriage? “What did that mean, to be together? What did it mean to enter into a bond with another person?” (Oates 65). Anton Chekhov’s “The
Lady with the Dog” and Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Lady with the Pet Dog” explore and exemplify how two married individuals’ yearnings for self reinvention and novelty, consequently catapulted them into obscure territories of infidelity.

Chekhov points out very early in his story that his main character, Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov, is someone who is used to being unfaithful with his wife and their marriage, as emphasized by: “He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago – had been
unfaithful to her often” (52). This unfaithfulness attests Gurov’s dissatisfaction with their marriage, eventually pulling him to cheat, to escape displeasure by finding missing pleasure through the company of other women. His stay at Yalta also
indicates his attempts of temporary escapes. The author hints that he goes there to find women in that he “had begun to take an interest in new arrivals” (51).He yearns so much for excitement in that place as he dreams of “tales of easy conquests, of
trips to the mountains and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair… took possession of him” (Chekhov 52). He later becomes acquainted with Anna Sergeyevna, “the lady with the dog” (Chekhov 52) and develops an affair with her. The “swift, fleeting love affair” however, does not turn out as how it is meant to be. Something brief grows into something deeper, as Gurov follows Anna to her hometown, even after they have parted and made promises to never see each other again. Anna, who is also married, and Gurov, figure out what to do with their relationship, for they “loved each other like people very close… like husband and wife… They could not understand why he had a wife and she, a husband, and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages” (Chekhov 62).

Oates’ Anna also encounters the same problem. She also feels like she is trapped in her marriage, as if her relationship is in stagnant seas: “For years now, they had not been comfortable together; in their intimacy… they struggled gently as if the paces of this dance were too rigorous for them” (Oates 64). She moreover confessed to her lover that “she lived with her husband lovelessly, the two of them polite strangers, sharing a bed, lying side by side in the night in that bed, bodies out of which souls had fled” (Oates 75). This suggests that she and her husband were, once upon a time, happy and in love, but as time passes, the loving “souls had fled,” the love they once shared has already left them. Anna, in turn, attempts to find this lost love that eluded their marriage and finds it with an unnamed stranger, thinking that “this man was her savior, that he had come to her at a time in her life when it demanded completion… a permanent fixing of all that was troubled, shifting, and deadly” (Oates 65). She feels that her “completion” depends on the arrival of this special person. Even though she is evidently elated with this discovery, she is chased by shame, the same way Chekhov’s Anna is. In parallel with Gurov’s ultimate certainty or otherwise, about Anna Sergeyevna and their relationship , Oates’ Anna claims that the unnamed lover, “this man, whom she loved above any other person in the world, above… her own life, was her truest lover, her destiny” (Oates 75).

Even though both stories share very similar premises, themes, plots, and characters, they are manipulated by the author in distinctive manners. The similar plot, although different in structure, and “Anna” might primarily imply the possibility that both stories are connected, however, the settings of both stories prove otherwise. Chekhov’s is set on Russia, in Yalta, while Oates’ is set on United States, particularly in Nantucket and New York. The protagonists’ genders (one from a masculine
perspective, and the other, feminine) introduce the readers into distinctive moods and tones which the authors want to highlight. Chekhov’s Gurov appears to be laid­back, condescending, even dismissive, particularly with his wife and women. The very little information that Chekhov presented about Gurov’s wife insinuates that she plays an unimportant role in his life. Chekhov only tells the readers how Gurov “considered her unintelligent, narrow and inelegant” (52). The author also exposes most of Gurov’s thoughts, that attests how generally cynical and condescending his disposition is. About Anna, he thinks dismissively, “’There’s something pathetic about her anyway’” (Chekhov 53). He also admits that he used to call women “the
lower race” (Chekhov 52). The earlier part of Chekhov’s story offers a slightly relaxed, tensionless tone. Gurov’s nonchalant and virile disposition act as a tone driver. He primarily exudes an almost guiltless attitude towards infidelity. The tension just appears near the conclusion when Gurov realizes that “only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love – for the first time in his life” (Chekhov 62) and then both of them gradually think about how they can handle their secret relationship. Oates’ Anna, on the other hand, exudes feminine, dissenting feelings of hope and doubt, love and shame throughout the story. Unlike Gurov, Anna still has a direct physical connection with her husband – kissing, embracing, and love­making, shameful though it might be for her. Also, unlike Gurov’s wife, Anna’s marital partner evidently still cares for her, asking affirming questions such as, “Did I hurt you?” (Oates 52). She is notably religious about her lover, hailing him as her “savior”. Anna consistently thinks of her infidelity as something shameful, especially whenever she is with her husband, and doubtful: “He doesn’t love me, nothing will come of it” (Oates 72).

The two authors both speak of two worlds in their stories. In Oates’ it is “to be here and not there, to be one person and not another, a certain man’s wife and not the wife of another man” (66) while in Chekhov’s, “he had two lives: one, open, seen, and known by all… and another life running its course in secret” (61). Both are referring to the main characters’ two worlds: a) the public, legal life with their marital partners and b) the private life with their secret lovers. Both main characters similarly experience life in monotony and dissatisfaction, with Gurov thinking that “There is left a life… curtailed, worthless and trivial” (Chekhov 58) and Anna believing that “her life demanded completion” (Oates 65).

Shame and uncertainty are hovering feelings in both stories. To Oates’ Anna: “There was no future” and to Anna’s lover: “This is impossible” (66). Chekhov’s Sergeyevna tells Gurov that, “They could only meet in secret, hiding themselves from people,
like thieves” (62). Both stories also show that the two women (Oates’ Anna and Anna Sergeyevna) are more palpably worried about the social repercussions which may inevitably amount from infidelity, than the two men (Gurov and the stranger). The
two men’s nonchalant attitude towards it seems to suggest that they deem infidelity as something natural and inevitable to happen. This might also suggest that in both places and both time frames present in the story, societies are quicker to point fingers to women, likelier to impose shame and fault upon them, than they are to men.

Chekhov utilizes his story’s plot in a linear structure, while Oates’ does hers in a cyclical fashion. Chekhov’s strategy highlights realism, showcasing an open ending, wherein the conflict is just beginning to unveil itself. It reflects everyday reality, in which, practically, not everything ends with a closure. Chekhov ends “The Lady with the Dog” with: “They had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated part of it was only just beginning” (62). Oates’ cyclical plot structure, on the other hand, is effective in presenting Anna’s personal battles. Oates introduces the readers first to her marriage, her relationship with her husband –her life six months after she and lover decide to part ways, with consistent mentions of someone whom she is not allowed to be with. Oates then delves into the middle, in which she narrates Anna’s relationship with her secret lover. By primarily warning her readers that Anna indeed did something in the past that made her feel very shameful, the readers are able to empathize with her and understand what she is clearly feeling and where it is coming from at the middle of the story.

Even though the story is set in different time frames and different countries, different places, it is evident that in both stories, the main characters hide in secrecy, managing to create another world, a world that is private, known only by the two people participating in the secret relationship. The need to create another world, illustrates that the characters are fearsome of the legal and social repercussions that shall amount from an illegal relationship. This reflects that Russian and American societies, at those time frames, both frown upon infidelity. The characters’ secret dives into infidelity prove to be problematic, because of legal and societal consequences and conventions, but these dives, nonetheless, fulfill their yearnings for reinvention, and novelty.

Works Cited

Chekhov, Anton. “The Lady with the Dog.” Trans. Constance Garnett. Efictions. Ed. Joseph F. Trimmer, C. Wade Jennings, and Annette Patterson. Forth Worth: Harcourt College, 2001. 51­62. Print.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “The Lady with the Pet Dog.” Efictions. Ed. Joseph F. Trimmer, C. Wade Jennings, and Annette Patterson.
Fort Worth: Harcourt College, 2001. 63­76. Print.

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