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Anna Karenina | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In what ways is Anna Karenina a sympathetic heroine in Anna Karenina?

Many readers find Anna a sympathetic heroine because most people are enamored of the idea of romantic love. The passions that are evoked when people feel a strong sexual connection are among the strongest emotions people experience. Such passion is often the basis of a more permanent connection, if a couple's love matures. The most enduring relationships are those that expand beyond the couple and encompass family, community, and vocation or work. An enduring love takes grit and commitment, however, and is not as interesting or intoxicating as the passion of Eros. Moreover, when Eros is thwarted, elements of tragedy and heroism come into play, which also makes passionate love more interesting than other types of love. Thus, Anna is a heroine of passionate love who suffers and dies tragically. While Tolstoy loved his own creation and expects the reader to find her sympathetic, he ultimately presents her case as an object lesson in the limits of passionate love, which is partly an illusion.

How is Countess Lydia Ivanovna an example of a religious hypocrite in Anna Karenina?

Countess Lydia Ivanovna is a religious hypocrite because she considers herself to be a devout Christian, yet she does not follow the basic principles of Christianity, which include loving one's neighbor and practicing compassion and forgiveness. In Part 1, Chapter 32, Anna observes that Lydia is constantly at odds with other people, even as she claims to be a devout Christian wanting to help her fellow Slavs. Lydia is in love with Karenin and insinuates herself into his life after Anna leaves him. She lies to Seryozha, claiming that his mother is dead, without thinking about how such sudden and shocking news might affect a child. When Anna comes back to town and writes to Lydia, asking her to facilitate a meeting with her child, Lydia deliberately insults her by not sending a reply (Part 5, Chapter 23) and then convinces Karenin to refuse Anna's visit in Part 5, Chapter 25. All of these actions are done out of hatred and spite, because she is angry at Anna for hurting Karenin. Moreover, she judges Anna harshly for her actions and seeks to punish her when she has the opportunity.

What is Tolstoy's view of social roles such as work and vocation, as evidenced in Anna Karenina?

Tolstoy clearly shows that people need meaningful work to be happy, and the best type of work is also a vocation. Levin, for example, has a vocation as an estate manager and farmer. He loves the land and sees himself as its caretaker; he does not believe the land is something to merely make a profit on: he and another nobleman in Part 6, Chapter 29 discuss how some people are cutting down their linden trees to make a profit, which will destroy the land for future generations. In the famous mowing scene in Part 3, Chapter 5, Levin enters an ecstatic state of flow when he mows the meadow grass with the peasants, and he derives immense satisfaction from his fields and farm animals and all of the tasks that are associated with farming. Levin's work provides the essential meaning of his life, along with his marriage and family. Karenin also has a vocation—as a government minister—and when he loses his standing and is gradually pushed off to the side, he deteriorates as far as becoming a disciple of a French con man. Karenin loses the most important things in life—his marriage and his work—and as a result, he sinks into psychological and moral degradation.

In what ways does Tolstoy sympathize with Koznyshev and Pestov's view on women's rights in Anna Karenina?

Tolstoy sympathizes with the plight of women, as shown in his depictions of how women are hemmed in by marriage and family. For example, in Part 6, Chapter 16, Dolly thinks about all of the negative aspects of motherhood and how in many ways her job is a thankless task. She is also a primary example of how women are forced by circumstances into putting up with less-than-worthy husbands. Dolly also worries about how she will support her children and educate them, given her husband's prodigality. Tolstoy agrees with what Pestov says Part 4, Chapter 11 that it is unfair that men and women are treated differently by society when they engage in adultery. However, he does not agree with these two liberals with regard to women inhabiting a wider sphere of influence—for example, holding jobs, holding office, and so forth. The old prince puts an end to the conversation about women's rights when he says he will protest because he is not allowed to be a wet nurse. Thus, he immediately brings the discussion around to procreation, which for Tolstoy accounts for the primary difference between men and women and the roles allotted them by nature. Women's sphere must naturally be confined primarily to giving birth and raising children, and, thus Tolstoy is far from a feminist. Interestingly, his own wife not only gave birth to thirteen children, but also acted as Tolstoy's secretary, editor, and business manager.

Where does Levin stand politically in Anna Karenina—among the liberals or the old-school traditionalists?

Levin is a nonconformist and cannot be strictly pigeonholed as either a liberal or a traditionalist. He agrees with his brother that the serfs should have been liberated, but mostly because it is better for the business of farming, while his brother is more concerned about their human rights. Nonetheless, he views the peasants with respect and does not think they are lazy, as many of the other landowners do. He does not believe the new ideas about local administration are helpful, and finds that the efforts of the landowners to raise up the peasants in this way to be a waste of time. However, he buys new farm equipment, which he tries to get the peasants to use and later decides that they must be allowed to farm in a way that is compatible to their notions and way of life. Levin does not believe Russia's problems can be solved by political means but that each individual must do his part locally—in his family, on his farm, and on his estate.

In Anna Karenina, what stylistic devices does Tolstoy employ to make the scene between Anna and Seryozha on the boy's birthday so heartbreaking?

Tolstoy uses his formidable powers of description in Part 5, Chapter 29 to describe how Anna buys toys to bring to her son and carefully plans the meeting for early in the morning. After the porter lets her in, she runs up the stairs, even though the porter asks her to wait to see if the tutor is dressed. When she sees her son sleeping, she first remembers him as a four-year-old and then notices he is taller and thinner, and then minutely observes his head, lips, neck, and broad shoulders. When he awakes, she puts her arms around "his plump body," while he moves under her embrace, to touch her arms "with different parts of his body." He snuggles with her and says he knew she would come, and as he almost drifts back to sleep, she eyes him "greedily," paying special attention to his feet and his "hair cut short on the back of his neck." The vivid physicality of the scene imprints itself on the reader's mind. The scene between mother and child is short-lived, however, as she is hustled out in Part 5, Chapter 30. Both of them cry, with Seryozha sinking down on the bed and "covering his face with his hands," and she forgetting to give him the toys she so carefully selected. The careful choice of detail—the physical description of the child, the words mother and child say to each other, and their actions and omissions—all add up to a recipe for wringing the reader's heart.

Why does Karenin's career go into a nosedive after his wife leaves him in Anna Karenina?

Karenin's career goes into a nosedive because society no longer respects him. He notices in Part 4, Chapter 19 that the society women and even his footman exhibit the same kind of "joy" he saw in the divorce lawyer's eyes: the malicious spite that people feel about another's misfortune, especially if the person in question has fallen from a great height. This schadenfreude (happiness in another's misfortune) appears after Karenin forgives Anna and is nursing her back to health. In Part 4, Chapter 21, Betsy tells Stiva that the whole town is talking about Anna and Karenin, and in Part 5, Chapter 24, the narrator notes that Karenin's career has ended, perhaps partly due to the misfortune of his wife. Karenin has lost the respect of influential people because he has acted in an uncharacteristic way toward the infidelity of his wife: he has not challenged her lover to a duel; he has not divorced her and disgraced her; rather, he first forgave her and her lover and then has allowed her to leave him without taking any action. In the eyes of the world, he has not acted like a man, even though the world he lives in claims to be Christian. Karenin's magnanimous act of forgiveness is thoroughly punished.

What is the symbolic meaning of the city and the country in Anna Karenina?

While in War and Peace, Moscow represents good Russian values, and Petersburg represents the decadence and immorality of Russians brainwashed by continental values, Anna Karenina now paints both cities with the same brush. The city not only represents a deterioration of morality and values, but also the bad effects of progress, which are destroying traditional ways of life. The train, a symbol of progress, goes back and forth from Petersburg and Moscow and facilitates the alienation and discord in formerly whole communities. The country, on the other hand, is a place where honest work is to be had—as is Levin's and Vronsky's work on their estates. The country offers an opportunity to reform agrarian culture and reset the relationship between landowner and peasant so that the land can become more productive. Those who live in the country have wholesome pursuits and are away from the temptations of the city. Levin, the hero of the story, hates the city and loves the country.

Why is Levin so tortured by the idea of death and mortality in Anna Karenina?

Levin fears death because he is also unsure about whether he believes in God and the tenets of his religion. A Russian Orthodox Christian believes that there is life after death, in which the souls of the righteous are united with God. Levin doubts the existence of God; therefore, he doubts the afterlife. If there is no afterlife, then Levin, like any person who does not have faith, must more squarely face his own mortality and death. Death is an existential problem for human beings, because they know with their conscious minds that they will die. This knowledge can make them feel that whatever they do is meaningless because, in the end, they will go out of existence. Such questions also bring up the additional questions about the purpose of life and whether an individual existence has any meaning. These are the types of questions that Levin broods on, and at the end of the novel, Levin decides that it is enough for him to live for "the good" (Part 8, Chapter 19).

How does Levin resolve his spiritual crisis at the end of Anna Karenina?

Levin's resolution of his spiritual crisis is worked out in Part 8, Chapters 11–19. His train of thought begins with something a peasant said, which was that some men live simply to "stuff their belly," while others live "for the soul." Levin extrapolates the idea and applies it more generally to an idea that he might live for "the good," which would amount to the same thing. Moreover, the impulse seems to prove the existence of God, and he thinks that he may have arrived at faith. He determines that, because the revelations of Christianity are compatible with this goal, he has arrived at the true faith through a rational truth. But toward the end of his train of thought, he begins to wonder that if his religion is the manifestation of the deity, then where do all the other religions stand? He determines that is not something he needs to concern himself with. Levin's resolution of his spiritual crisis is based on an intellectual argument that equates his natural moral impulses with proof of the existence of God and proof that Orthodox Christianity is the true faith. Levin's crisis mirrors the author's spiritual crisis, which took him years to resolve.

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