Joyce Carol Oates’s story “The Lady with the Pet Dog” is a clear response to Anton Chekhov’s classic story “The Lady with the Little Dog.” Almost 75 years separate the two stories, and Oates, though her modifications, clearly modernizes the story, retelling the story through a feminist lens.
Chekhov’s linear story is written from the point of view of the man, Dmitri Dmitrich Gurov, who is having an affair with Anna Sergeevna, the lady with the dog. The point of view is relatively close to Gurov; we see the world and Anna through his perspective. There are moments, however, where Chekhov pulls back somewhat, so that we get a fuller perspective which encompasses both characters. This clearly happens at the end of the story, when the couple realizes that they wish to be together:
And it seemed that, just a little more—and the solution would be found, and then a new, beautiful life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that the end was still far, far off, and that the most complicated and difficult part was just beginning.
Oates tells the story through the point of view of the woman—Anna, as well—and responds to the circularity at the end of Chekhov’s story by employing a cyclical structure throughout her story. We begin at a concert—a point midway through the chronological story—where Anna spots her lover. We return to the concert two more times over the course of the story, learning and seeing a bit more with each return. From the start at the concert, we move back in time, to where the couple leaves Nantucket, where they have met, and then we move back in time again to when they first meet. The exact midpoint of the story is the moment that they meet. Throughout the story, Oates plays with this circular structure, often referring to it in the text, in Anna’s thoughts and words: “Everything is repeating itself. Everything is stuck.”