Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 5 Chapters 28 33 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 5, Chapters 28–33 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 28, Anna and Vronsky settle in a hotel in Petersburg, and Vronsky's brother comes to see Anna. To Vronsky's disappointment, however, society is open to him but not Anna. Betsy visits, although only briefly, and considers it a great favor. Vronsky's sister-in-law, Varya, tells him in Chapter 29 she cannot receive her. Anna has been in an irritable mood, but she does not tell Vronsky what is making her miserable—that she desperately wants to see her son—for fear that he will act coldly about this grief. When she gets Lydia's letter, she is infuriated and determines to see her son for his birthday. She buys many toys for him and arrives early in the morning. After the hall porter Kapitonych lets her in, Anna wakens Seryozha, and the narrator describes a heartbreaking reunion between mother and son: "'Mama,' he said, moving under her arms, so as to touch them with different parts of his body." Anna looks her son over "greedily" and as she touches different parts of him, she weeps. In Chapter 30, the tutor, who is supposed to help get the child dressed, waits discreetly on the other side of the door. Before preparing to rush out, Anna tells her son to love his father and that he is better than her. "No one's better than you," he says, and begins crying. Karenin comes in just as she is leaving, and she neglects to give Seryozha his toys.

Anna is devastated by the visit, and when the wet nurse brings her little Anna in Chapter 31, she feels no love for her. After thinking about her son, she begins to wonder if Vronsky has stopped loving her. He goes to her rooms to visit her with his old friend Yashvin, whom she invites to dinner. In Chapter 32, Anna returns to the hotel later in the day with her spinster aunt, Princess Varvara Oblonsky, who stays for dinner with Yashvin. Betsy's lover Tushkevich brings a message for Anna to stop by that evening, at a specific time, obviously to avoid the other guests, and Anna declines. Tushkevich stays for dinner and volunteers to get Anna a box at the opera. After dinner, Vronsky attempts to talk Anna out of going but cannot.

In Chapter 33, Vronsky mentally fumes over Anna's decision to go to the theater with the notorious princess. He finally decides to join her and the others at the opera, arriving after the first act. As he looks up at Anna, who is speaking to Yashvin, he sees the woman sitting in the box next to Anna hastily leaving. Vronsky learns that Madame Kartasova has insulted Anna. The theater is buzzing with this piece of gossip. Vronsky enters Anna's box to greet her, but she leaves soon after, getting home before him. She irrationally blames Vronsky for what has happened, and while he feels pity for her and reassures her that he loves her, he stills feels angry.

Analysis

Anna and Vronsky return to Russia, finding it the way that they left it. Anna is still barred from society, and even Vronsky's sister will not receive her at home, although she is willing to visit Anna at the hotel. Her fair-weather friend Betsy shows up, thinking she is performing a great service, and she stays a very short time. She invites Anna to her own house at a time when she knows no one else will risk running into her. Ironically, she sends her own lover to deliver this message.

Anna has not told Vronsky about how distraught she is over Seryozha, which reveals a deep fissure in their relationship. This is a part of herself that she cannot share with Vronsky, and it is almost as if he does not accept the fact that she is the mother of a son. Perhaps because of his own distant relationship with his mother, he does not realize the importance of the bond between Anna and her son. And Anna almost acts as if her motherhood is a liability she needs to shield Vronsky from, lest he become disenchanted with her. The more society rejects Anna, the more dependent she becomes on Vronsky's protection and regard.

In perhaps one of the most heartbreaking scenes in literature, Anna violates the prohibition to see her son and surprises him on his birthday. The child knows his mother is not dead and, in fact, has prayed the night before that she will come. The reunion is highly emotional for both of them, and the narrator stresses the physicality of it, as Seryozha unconsciously tries to touch his mother with every part of himself and Anna looks at him "greedily," noticing how he has grown and changed since her absence—touching his hair and his feet. The novel has stressed the importance of motherhood, and Anna was no exception. Anna realizes Seryozha is not sure how to think about his father, which is why she tells him to love Karenin, but no one can take the place of a mother. Anna can stay only a short time, and as she rushes out she forgets to give her son the toys she so carefully picked out for him—another blow.

When Anna returns, she needs to recover. She feels no love for the second child, and this remains true until the end of the novel. Annie is the product of her "criminal" union, and perhaps Anna feels guilty about loving and caring for her when Seryozha is now motherless. Annie is also a constant reminder of her untenable position, which might be another reason she rejects her. In defiance of society's rejection of her, she is determined to go to the opera and even dresses provocatively for the occasion. Vronsky is furious, knowing she will be scorned and rejected, and angry that Anna has put him in an awkward position. When he arrives late at the opera, she blames him for the treatment she receives, but his presence or absence is beside the point. Anna now has full confirmation of where she stands.

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