Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Anna Karenina, how does Vronsky change as a result of his affair with Anna Karenina?

At the beginning of the novel, Vronsky has a careless and carefree attitude in affairs of the heart. As the narrator explains in Part 1, Chapter 16, Vronsky's mother was not a faithful wife but a typical society woman who had numerous affairs, and she sent him to boarding school early in his life, so he did not experience much closeness or affection from his mother. He has the prevailing attitude of aristocratic men in his social class, which was that husbands are "ridiculous," and as the narrator says in the same chapter, Vronsky has no intention of becoming one. At the same time, the wives of other men are fair game. When Vronsky sees Anna, he feels an overwhelming attraction, and experiences "love at first sight" when he sees her again at the ball in Part 1, Chapter 22. But after Vronsky's pursuit of Anna succeeds, his feeling for her deepens, and he commits to her as his monogamous partner. Once they have a child together, his greatest wish is that they will marry and become a conventional family. Thus, his love for Anna changes his ideas about love and marriage, and for the first time he wants to be faithful to a woman who means the world to him.

In what ways is Vronsky a moral or immoral man in Anna Karenina?

Vronsky is a moral man whose moral vision matures as the novel progresses. At the beginning of the novel, Vronsky lives by the officer's code, which by ordinary standards is not very moral. For example, the narrator explains in Part 3, Chapter 20, that he would not lie to men, although it was acceptable to lie to women. He also has the immoral attitude of high-society people, and the narrator says in Part 1, Chapter 34 that only the dull people practice fidelity and chastity before marriage, while the real people give themselves entirely over to their passions without blushing. Vronsky has had no moral training or good role models—he was raised by his society mother and was sent to cadet school at a young age. But his nature is essentially moral, and once he falls in love with Anna, he commits to her exclusively. He wishes to bring their affair out into the open, and even hopes Karenin will challenge him to a duel. When Karenin forgives him in Part 4, Chapter 17, Vronsky feels genuine shame and remorse and even tries to kill himself as a result. For Anna's sake, he resigns his commission. Throughout the novel, he feels responsible for Anna's unhappiness and can never forget that he trespassed on her marriage. He attempts to right the situation and wants Anna to get a divorce so that he can be the legal father of Annie and any children that will follow.

In Anna Karenina, what evidence suggests that Karenin loves or does not love his wife Anna?

There is some evidence that Karenin loves his wife. The reason he initially turns his eyes away from her infidelity is only partially because he wishes to avoid a scandal. The deeper reason is because he has difficulty with emotions and intimacy. Anna is the only person he is intimate with, and when she betrays him he is at a loss, because he never expected that he would have to face infidelity. He is somewhat like an ostrich, hiding his head in the sand, and he hopes the whole thing will blow over. Nonetheless. he does try to get Anna to talk about the situation more than once, but she avoids the subject. For example, in Part 2, Chapters 9 and 10, he broaches the subject, but the narrator says he cannot strike the right tone. In Part 4, Chapter 4, he tries to express to Anna how much she has hurt him. He tells Dolly he hates Anna for what she did because he is so hurt, but he immediately goes to Anna when she calls, and he forgives her in Part 4, Chapter 17, and keeps hoping they will be able to reconcile. When he tells Vronsky he will stand by his wife, no matter what the social consequences, he proves his love. In fact, Karenin destroys the most important thing in his life, next to Anna—his career—which is the fallout of his compassionate treatment of his wife.

After she recovers from childbirth, why does Anna Karenina not accept her husband Karenin's generous offer to divorce and take the blame for adultery in Anna Karenina?

Anna tells Vronsky in Part 4, Chapter 23 that she cannot accept "his magnanimity," saying she does not want a divorce, because "it's all the same to me now. Only I don't know what he'll decide about Seryozha." Vronsky is annoyed that she is thinking of her son and divorce at their moment of reunion and says, "Don't talk about it, don't think." And then Anna says, "why didn't I die, it would be better!" The narrator adds, "and tears streamed silently down both her cheeks; but she tried to smile so as not to upset him." The narrator's tone here contains situational irony, because no doubt Anna is trying to get Vronsky's sympathy and is playing the role of the long-suffering heroine. It becomes apparent to Anna in this exchange that if she continues to act as the mother of Seryozha, she will destroy the passionate love story that she and Vronsky are enacting. Getting a divorce and then beginning a new life with Seryozha in tow are not what Vronsky has in mind. Thus, Anna decides to leave Seryozha behind, although she tells herself it is because she is too proud to accept the divorce.

Why does Vronsky try to kill himself in Anna Karenina?

Vronsky tries to kill himself because his self-image has been crushed by Karenin's forgiveness and he would rather be dead than have to face up to the loss of his selfhood. Anna tells Vronsky that her husband is a saint in Part 4, Chapter 17, and Karenin's forgiveness does have a cast of saintliness. Karenin then tells Vronsky that he will stand by Anna, even if Vronsky makes him "the laughing-stock of society" and "will never say a word of reproach." Thus, the narrator says in Part 4, Chapter 18 that Vronsky feels "shamed, humiliated, guilty, and deprived of any possibility of washing away his humiliation." Karenin has completely disproved the idea that a husband is "ridiculous" and the man who cuckolds him is a romantic hero. Thus, even if others in his circle treat Karenin with derision or scorn, Vronsky will know the truth—that he is simply a cheat who trespassed on a marriage. This is why his love for Anna is even stronger after she recovers. The best way to save his self-image and make his life meaningful again is to turn his passion for Anna into a life project that is worth all the pain and sacrifice.

In Anna Karenina, how is Dolly's view of marriage different from Anna Karenina's?

Dolly and Anna both demonstrate their views of marriage more by actions than words. While Dolly sympathizes with Anna and even fantasizes about leaving Stiva in Part 6, Chapter 16, during her trip to visit her friend, this is not something she would actually do. Anna does not believe that marriage is a sacred institution or that she is bound to her vow of fidelity. Clearly, Karenin is good, kind, and generous, even if he is lacking in affection and seems to condescend to his wife. Anna leaves him in order to pursue passion with Vronsky and feels guilt only in their first sexual encounter in Part 2, Chapter 11. After that, she does her best to vilify her husband to justify her infidelity. Dolly, on the other hand, has every reason to leave Stiva and could have gone to a lawyer and had his infidelity proven so that she would get custody of the children and even be allowed to marry again. However, Dolly knows this would not be a good choice for her children. Further, she believes she must adhere to her marriage vow, so she teaches herself to put up with Stiva even though she no longer respects him.

Why does Levin in Anna Karenina find it difficult to spend time with his half-brother, Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev?

Levin finds it difficult to spend time with Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev because he disagrees with his politics and because his brother unconsciously devalues the life that his younger brother has chosen. The two brothers are also very different emotionally; Levin lives from the heart, while Koznyshev lives from the head. Koznyshev is a liberal who believes that it is the responsibility of aristocrats to make life better for the peasants and former serfs, and says they should take part in the local governing councils called zemstvo. Levin disagrees and quits the council because he finds it to be a useless institution. When Koznyshev comes to visit his brother in the summer, he distracts him and does not seem to realize that while the country is a place of idleness for him, it is the place of work for his brother. In Part 3, Chapters 1 and 2, Levin frets about his farm work while he tries to entertain his brother. Finally, Koznyshev is much better at arguing than Levin is, and also has the advantage of being the older brother, so Levin can never win an argument with him.

In what ways is Levin the moral compass of Anna Karenina?

Levin is the moral compass of the novel because he is the hero who lives an exemplary life and is contrasted with the immorality of Anna, Stiva, and Vronsky. Levin is also considered to be Tolstoy's "mouthpiece" by most critics, and was used by the author to comment on the social and political issues of his day. Levin is not perfect, but he feels shame for his sexual adventures prior to marriage, so much so that he feels compelled to share his diaries with Kitty before she commits herself to him irrevocably. He believes that marriage is for life, and fidelity is essential. For this reason, he does not understand Stiva's need for lovers. Kitty's father much prefers Levin to Vronsky, whom he calls a "popinjay" in Part 1, Chapter 15, recognizing Levin as a good and faithful man for his youngest daughter. While Levin does not agree that it is his duty to take care of people he does not know, he takes care of everyone within his sphere of influence when called upon to do so, and takes on more and more responsibility for Stiva's family as the novel progresses. Finally, Levin wants to live a good and meaningful life, which is why he is tortured by spiritual doubt. He goes on a spiritual quest toward the end of the novel and determines, in Part 8, Chapters 18 and 19 that it is necessary to live for the "good," ahead of one's personal interests and petty concerns.

Why do Anna Karenina and Kitty come to hate each other by the end of Anna Karenina?

Early on in the novel, when Anna first turns to Vronsky at the ball, she sees Kitty's distress and deliberately ignores it (Part 1, Chapter 23). Thus, she betrays Kitty and disingenuously asks for her forgiveness through Levin in Part 7, Chapter 10, even as she attempts to make Levin fall in love with her. When Levin reveals to his wife that he has been moved by Anna's charm, she calls her a "vile woman" for good reason. Finally, when she visits Dolly in Part 7, Chapter 29, Anna deliberately makes an attempt to hurt Kitty, right before she commits suicide. Anna hates and envies Kitty because she has been able to make a happy marriage with Levin. Moreover, she has unconscious guilt about what she has done to Kitty and uses a common psychological strategy, which is to turn one's victim into the perpetrator. Thus, Anna believes that Kitty is judging her.

In Anna Karenina, in what ways does Anna Karenina love Vronsky more than she loves her son Seryozha?

Yes, Anna does love Vronsky more than Seryozha, and she proves that by abandoning her son for the sake of her lover, even though she initially had the choice of getting a divorce from Karenin that would have allowed her to keep her son. However, if she had taken Seryozha with her, it likely would have put a damper on the passion between her and Vronsky, because he would have had to share her with a demanding preteen boy. Moreover, the complications of her co-parenting with Karenin would have added complications to their lives, and Anna is interested in maintaining the romantic passion she has created with Vronsky. Anna does not try to visit Seryozha after her initial visit in which she ran into Karenin. Clearly, he would not have tried to stop her, despite Countess Lydia's prohibition given to Anna in Part 5, Chapter 25. In fact, the boy's old nanny even tells her the best time to visit in Part 5, Chapter 30, but she makes no further attempts to contact her son. Finally, she kills herself to spite Vronsky, but she does not think about the consequences for Seryozha. Thus, her entire focus shifts from her son to her lover, who is more important to her.

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