The Lady with the Dog: Symbolism & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Symbolism is a common literary device. In this lesson we will explore the use of symbolism in 'The Lady with the Dog' by Anton Chekhov, including quotes from the story.

Below the Surface

In the last story you read, what objects did the author describe? What aspects of setting did they include? In any story you will find objects of some kind, often as part of the setting. Authors sometimes use these objects to represent larger aspects of the story, or overarching themes or topics. This representation is called symbolism, and it is a common method for connecting pieces of a story together, or illustrating to the reader a significant aspect of the story. Some interesting examples of symbolism can be seen in Anton Chekhov's short story, ''The Lady with the Dog.''

A Brief Review

Before we look at the story's symbolism, let's do a brief recap of what happened. The story is told from the perspective, or point of view, of Dmitri Gurov. He is vacationing in Yalta and meets a young woman, Anna, with a white dog. They begin seeing each other. Both of them are married, but Gurov ''secretly considered [his wife] unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home.'' He has been cheating on her for years. This is Anna's first affair, and she feels intensely guilty about it.

Eventually Anna returns to her home city and Gurov goes back to Moscow. He expects to forget her as he forgot his other affairs, but he can't stop thinking about her. He goes to her city and waits outside her house, outside the big grey fence. She doesn't appear, but he later runs into her at the theater. Anna sends him away but promises to visit him in Moscow. When she does, Gurov looks at himself in a mirror in her hotel and realizes, ''...only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love -- for the first time in his life.'' Though both of them expect it to be just an affair, they fall in love.

Gurov and Anna met in Yalta
Map of Yalta and Moscow

A Closer Look

There are several different symbols throughout Chekhov's story, including specific objects as well as colors that represent aspects of the characters.

Symbolic Colors

There are two parts of the story where color plays a significant role. The first is in the beginning. When Gurov first meets Anna, she is known only as being ''always with the same white dog.'' White traditionally symbolizes purity and innocence, and that is the case here as well. Unlike Gurov, Anna has never had an affair, and she is young. Later in the story, after they begin the affair and she is less innocent, we do not see the dog as often.

The second part is when Gurov visits Anna in her home city. He notes in his hotel that, ''…the floor was covered with grey army cloth, and on the table was an inkstand, grey with dust...'' Later, the fence outside Anna's house is also grey. Here, the repetition of grey represents uncertainty. Gurov's world used to be black and white. He didn't believe in lasting relationships. Yet here he is, seeking out a women he had an affair with, realizing he is actually in love. Chekhov uses grey to show Gurov's confusion and change of heart.

The Fence

One important physical symbol in the story is the ''...long grey fence adorned with nails'' outside Anna's house. The fence literally keeps people out, but it also represents how trapped Anna feels in her marriage. As she tells Gurov, ''I have never been happy; I am miserable now...'' She does not love her husband and wishes to be with Gurov, but she is trapped by her marriage. The fence symbolizes this significant aspect of Anna's character.

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