Black or White?
When reading “The Lady With the Pet Dog”, written by Anton Checkhov, one cannot help but notice the multiple times that the color gray is mentioned. Gray is actually referred to nine times throughout this story. When reading it, the word seems to almost eat at a person with its nagging to be noticed. However, in order to discover the meaning of gray in this story, one must look much deeper than words, and into the probable thoughts and feelings of the characters.
Gray is first mentioned on page 434 when Dmitry speaks of Anna’s “lovely gray eyes.” Although, his reference to the color gray at this point in the story appears to be positive, the following sentence states that, “There’s something pathetic about her, though.” Immediately, his positive “gray thought” about Anna is, in a way, taken for granted and made negative.
The second and third references to gray are found in the same sentence on page 440 at Dmitry’s hotel. This sentence talks about the floor which was covered with gray army cloth, and an inkstand that was “gray with dust.” The gray is cheap and unwanted here because of the figure on horseback atop the dusty inkstand with its head broken off. This is ironic because Dmitry is staying in the nicest hotel room in S_____.
In the next paragraph, the fourth reference is to the gray fence that surrounds Anna’s house. This fence was studded with nails that Gurov said, ” would make one run away.” The fifth reference to gray is confirmed to be unfavorable by Gurov himself. Dmitry says that he “hated the gray fence” as he wonders if Anna has forgotten him. Soon after this, when he returns to his hotel, he is frustrated as he sits on his bed which was covered with a cheap gray blanket.
Gray seems to become more positive on page 443, when Anna comes to visit Dmitry in Moscow wearing his “favorite gray dress.” Soon after, he states that his hair is now gray as well. However, at this point in Dmitry’s life, he has learned much and seems to have a much more positive attitude about the color gray. It is also noticeable that he seems to appreciate his life, and many aspects of it, such as his children.
Gray also seems to be represented after Dmitry and Anna go back to her place. She feels like a vile and immoral woman while he sees no wrong in their actions. Anna is guilty, and sees their actions as “black” with sin. However, Dmitry sees their actions as “white” because they make him happy. He is frustrated with this gray because of his poor understanding of it. He even eats a watermelon while she is trying to talk to him because he has no desire to even deal with gray at this point.
Before he goes to S_____ to see Anna, Dmitry finds himself to be fed up with his life. He realizes that it is filled with stupid nights and boring days, gambling, gluttony, and drunkenness. Several of the actions previously mentioned are considered to be sins in the Bible. This confused Dmitry immensely because the only sin he desired in his life was adultery. But his life in Moscow, viewed as right by society, was sin-filled and neglected to satisfy him at all! Should it not be considered more righteous to commit only one sin as opposed to several? This life in Moscow with his family was supposed to be the “right way” and yet it seemed to be more sinful than the life he desired with Anna. He probably wondered if seeing Anna was more wrong than his current life.
At one point in the story, one might even wonder if the sea is related to gray. At the top of page 437, the sea is said to portray an “unceasing movement towards perfection.” If gray is meant to be represented here, it shows that it is moving to be perfected or understood. Dmitry is very confused and frustrated with the gray at the beginning of the story because he does not understand it. In the end, when he learns to appreciate gray, he has learned much and is moving toward a perfect understanding of it. In this same sentence, gray is also referred to as a “complete indifference to the life and death of each of us.” At this point, one must stop and think because he is saying that there is no difference in life or death. Which, in other words, meant to me that there is no difference in black or white. The sea seems to be very important to Dmitry in this story until he returns to Moscow in winter. At this time, he states that “one no longer wants to think of the mountains and the sea.” This implies that he has already come to an understanding of gray with the help of the sea and he is now comfortable with it.
After reading the entire story several times, gray seems, to me, to represent confusion in the relationship of Anna and Dmitry. This confusion is between immorality and happiness, or black and white. It is hard for one to reach the ultimate truth in such a situation. There is a decision to be made between a desire for happiness through an adultrous affair and a life with no pleasure due to the failure of an arranged marriage. Who is to say which is more wrong? I think that this is the truth that this story has to offer. Some things cannot be categorized as right or wrong. These things fall into shades of gray.