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Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 5 Chapters 21 27 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 5, Chapters 21–27 | Summary



In Chapter 21, Karenin is a broken man. He cannot reconcile his tender treatment of his sick wife and Vronsky's child with his wife's abandonment and the derision of society. He cannot cope with the fact that people hate him, not because he is bad, but that "he was shamefully and repulsively unhappy."

Karenin grew up as an orphan, and even his only brother has died. He ended up married to Anna despite his doubts about the marriage. But Anna's aunt made him feel like he compromised young Anna with his attentions and was "honor-bound to propose." Once married, he felt no need to cultivate other relationships, so he has many acquaintances and associates, but not one real friend. In Chapter 22, Countess Lydia Ivanovna now steps into the vacuum left by Anna. She tells him he should not be ashamed of his forgiveness, which was put in his heart by God. She offers to help him look after his son, and immediately tells Seryozha his mother is dead. Lydia begins indoctrinating her friend in a new brand of Christianity in which only faith is necessary for salvation.

Lydia lives apart from her husband, the reader learns in Chapter 23, who abandoned her in the second month of their marriage. Now she latches onto Karenin. Back in town, Anna writes to Lydia and asks her to intervene with Karenin so that she may see her son. Although Karenin is still working, "his official career had ended," and in Chapter 24 he is clearly becoming more dependent on Lydia. In Chapter 25, she advises him to refuse Anna's request, although he is initially inclined to grant it. Lydia writes a nasty letter back to Anna, conveying his refusal. Karenin continues to suffer shame and remorse, wondering if he is to blame for being different from men like Vronsky and Stiva.

In Chapter 26, Seryozha is having a lesson with his tutor on the day before his birthday. This lesson is followed by one with his father in Chapter 27, and while he waits, he thinks about his mother, whom he knows is not dead. He is waiting for her to come back to him. That night, he prays that she will come for his birthday.


Karenin is on the road to moral and psychological ruin as a result of Anna's abandonment. The social pressure for them to marry pushed both of them into a union that has proved disastrous. As the reader has seen, Karenin is not a gregarious man. He has put most of his attention to building a brilliant career, because this is an arena in which he can excel and in which he feels most comfortable. He had already lost ground at work because he was so distracted—evidenced by the fact that his rival Stemov was able to outmaneuver him and win the post that Karenin had expected to get—and now he has destroyed his career because of his unconventional behavior with regard to Anna's affair. No one has fired Karenin; they simply do not pay attention to him anymore, and he will no longer be promoted.

Even Karenin's true act of Christian charity, performed in a moment of transcendence, has been punished by society. The man who found the meaning of his life as a well-connected bureaucrat and has always cared about public opinion cannot help but be crushed by this outcome. When Lydia steps in to validate him, however, she replaces his true Christianity with her own distorted ideas. Although she praises his behavior with his wife, she does not think Anna deserved to be treated so kindly. She follows a creed that allows her to think that salvation is guaranteed simply by being a believer, and she gradually instills Karenin with her half-baked notions. Karenin is inclined to let his wife see Seryozha and even says, "Who will throw a stone?" But Lydia convinces him that a visit from Anna would be bad for his son, especially because she has told him his mother is dead. Lydia is a vindictive and petty woman who, over time, drags Karenin down to her level, because he has no one else to whom he can turn for comfort.

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