Question 1: Why Is “The Lady with the Dog” Important?
Most great works of literature take a stand; offer a moral, show us consequences of our actions; however, Chekov doesn't appear to take any stand whatsoever on anything.
He tells us a story, to which there is no real conclusion, and then ends it. What makes his “The Lady with the Dog” important enough to stick in an anthology like ours? To answer the question, one has to dwell on Chekov's writing style. There are three kinds of beauty in Chekov's writing: the beauty of extreme brevity, the beauty of truthful description and the beauty of non-judgment. It is these beauties that mark Chekov's writing unique and unforgettable. The uniqueness makes Chekov's works stand out among other great pieces of literature. Without exception, “The Lady with the Dog” also becomes popular with its beauty of extreme brevity, truthful description, and most importantly, non-judgmental ending.
Chekov displays his extreme brevity by arranging only four chapters for “The Lady with the Dog”. There are only 6731 words in the English translation of the short story. Without much length, Chekov writes a sad story about two lonely hearts of Dmitri Gruvos' and Ana Sergeyevna's bumping into each other by chance at the sea, how the secret love between the two stands the test of departure, and how the they struggle at the end in finding a solution for their future. It is easy for the reader to notice Chekov's truthful description in the non-judgmental ending. Toward the end of the story, Chekov narrates how frustrated and helpless Ana and Dmitri feel after spending “a long while taking counsel together, talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy” (Chapter 4). The protagonists hug each other in a Moscow hotel, asking “‘How? How?' And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning” (Chapter 4). Chekov raises the question “How?” without an answer for a purpose: he leaves the solutions to the readers and asks them to find the solutions for Ana and Dmitri. There have been great discussions on Ana and Dmitri's relationship such as “Would their relationship last if it were let open?” Some says yes because the age of the two characters could assist them in continuing a long term, possibly very successful, relationship; some say no because the illicitness of the affair foreshadows the short term of the relationship; others argue that the protagonists' relationship may or may not last because Ana and Dmitri have to face the reality in searching for something better in their life, but they do it in a wrong way. Their spouse may not tolerate the betrayal and end up divorcing them. Another solution may be they will just continue to see each other periodically and let their family life return to normalcy.
That Chekov's ends the story without a conclusion, along with his extreme brevity and truthful description has made this story unforgettable and lasting. It sticks in anthologies of world literature. Director Joseph Heifitz made it into a movie with the same name in 1960 with great success. The movie ranks among the masterpieces of Soviet film art. “The Lady with the Dog” will remain in the world literature for many years to come.
Question 3: My Interpretation of "The Metamorphosis"
My interpretation of "The Metamorphosis" is of two folds: extreme selfishness and extreme selflessness. On the one hand, I believe Kafka is trying to criticize human selfishness and uncaring through how Gregor's family reacts to his hard work, transformation from usefulness to uselessness, from convenience to burden, and from physical deterioration to death. On the other hand, I believe Kafka is developing a parallel theme of one's extreme selflessness leading to tragedy through Gregor's sole focus on work and family to the extent of ignoring himself. Kafka effectively conditions the reader into denouncing the selfishness and sympathizing extreme selflessness at the end.
Gregor's family's extreme selfishness is appalling and should be denounced. They only care if Gregor has income for them to live a decent life. Once Gregor has lost the ability to work and even become a “bug”, they are cold to him and getting sick of him by putting him a room full of things they do not need. No one enters his room except his sister Grete who brings food to feed him twice a day. A year or so, Gregor's health deteriorates, but on one in the family thinks of taking him to a doctor. Gregor, the past breadwinner of the house dies from no medical treatment and uncaring family. The message in Kafka's work echoes one moral: Be kind to those who are not convenient and useful any more. As in our society, people tend to care and love those who are still convenient and useful; however, they tend to treat senior citizens or problematic veterans and the like worse. Those who like to ask“"What's in it for me?" need to change their attitude when and if they read Kafka "The Metamorphosis".
Gregor's extreme selflessness is sympathetic and should be recognized with respect. He does not complain before and after his metamorphosis. Being the financial backbone (breadwinner) of the family before his metamorphosis, he works and works to provide everything for the family but himself. After his metamorphosis, he does not notice and complain about his new predicament. He does not demand anything, and he does not cry, yell or become agonized. He still acts like before: loving music and painting and family, and avoiding bringing o trouble to others. Even when his sister despises him by leaving his room swiftly without saying anything to him, he still does not complain. He just does not to be other's burden. He eventually dies in the room which the family use as a dumping area, neglected and disgraced. What a sad story of a hard-working, selfless human soul! He does not deserve to be treated badly and no son or daughter should have to live and die on such a neglected and disgraced magnitude! In our life, we often see people like Gregor who are workaholic and caring for their family. They should have our highest respect; meanwhile, they should love themselves a litter more so that they are not totally lost in this world full of people like Gregor's family members.
Kafka's message on extreme selfishness and extreme selflessness is thought-provoking and far reaching. Gregor's tragedy is brought by his family's extreme selfishness and his own extreme selflessness; therefore, we should avoid the extremeness and treat those around us with compassion, care and love no matter they are still useful and convenient to us or not; meanwhile, hard-working and selfless people should love themselves more than before to keep their dignity and fight back unfair treatment from extreme selfish families, friends and colleagues.
Question 5: My Favorite and My least Favorite
Born in China and exposed to Russian literature at an earlier age, I had an easier time reading Anton Chekov's “The Woman with the Dog”. Needles to say, it is my favorite. I like it because of its heart-beating description of the nature, sad-but-beautiful love, conflict of individual verse social norm, and ending without conclusion. For least favorite, my vote goes to “Hedda Gabler” by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. I dislike “Hedda Gabler” simply because I loathe the main character of the play─Hedda Gabler for whom I sum up with a series of words that could be offensive to Hedda Gabler lovers: jealous, poisonous, monstrous, heartless, snobbish, lunatic, immoral, arrogant and cruel.
On my favorite: “The Woman with the Dog” is, to me, a great work. First, in Chekov's pen, the great nature is such a beautiful thing that draws two lonely souls together. I am deeply touched by the scene where Ana Sergeyevna and Dmitri Gurov sit silently on a rock by the seaside. The description is touchy, visible and heart-felt with “Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountain-tops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us… in these magical surroundings -- the sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky -- Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.” (Chapter 2) This is dauntingly beautiful. Whoever that fails to feel the beauty of this description had better read it a couple of times. The last sentence foreshadows Gurov's love to Ana. His soul is touched quietly with the nature when Ana is sitting with him. Pure love! Second, I love the true-to-life description of Chekov on Ana's conflict with herself and the social norm. After having affairs with Dmitri, Ana said “I am a bad, low woman; I despise myself and don't attempt to justify myself. It's not my husband but myself. I have deceived. And not only just now; I have been deceiving myself for a long time” (Chapter 2). Ana is fighting with the social norm of royal to marriage when she feels her love for Dmitri is sincere. It is very well said by Ana who comes from a small town and has been isolated for so long. Last but not least, I love the ending of “The Lady with the Dog”. It does not offer a solution to Ana and Dmitri's secret love because there is not a definite answer for their relationship. Chekov leaves the answers to the reader purposely. The reader can suggest different ending for this story. I would suggest they continue to see each other until one day they find they are not actually compatible, and then they return to the reality and return to their original marriage because, after all, it is easier to fall in love, but it is difficult to live in harmony with each other for a long time.
“Hedda Gabler” happened to be my least favorite. I dislike it because of Hedda Gabler who is, to me, a poisonous, cruel, arrogant and lunatic woman. She mirrors some women I met in my life, which makes me loathe her more. That Hedda Gabler is poisonous, monstrous, cruel, bloodless and arrogant is proved through making others around her submissive, painful and miserable. She bullied her Thea and Lövborg by burning their baby (the manuscript) as well as gives Lövborg a pistol to kill himself “beautifully”. To her husband George, she is indifferent and uncaring; to Juliana, her husband's aunt, she is mean. Hedda's evildoing is more than I can write about. A list of her flaws can go on, and on and on. I compare and contrast Hedda with some of my ex-girlfriends and I can hardly help calling my ex-girlfriends “my ex-Hedda's”! This is the epiphany I got from reading “Hedda Gabler”. Thank you, Ibsen. I like you, but I hate Hedda. I do not want to meet another Hedda in my life. If it is inevitable for me to meet another Hedda, I will not fall into her manipulation again.