Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 8 Chapters 16 19 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 8, Chapters 16–19 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 16, Koznyshev asserts that the "intelligentsia" of the world are now all of the same mind. The prince strongly disagrees, saying it is only the newspapers saying the same thing. Koznyshev defends the journalists, and Levin reminds his brother that war is not just about sacrificing oneself but also killing others. Koznyshev uses Jesus's words about bringing the sword to counter Levin's argument, who withdraws from the argument, deciding to privately hold his newly acquired truth, of which war could not be a part.

The family is outside in Chapter 17, and because it has begun to rain, everyone hurries to get home. Levin suddenly notices that his wife and child are missing, and as the storm becomes more furious, lightning strikes an oak and sets it on fire. Levin panics, because this is a spot where Kitty often comes, but he finds her at the other end of the wood, under a linden tree. The family spends the rest of the day at home in Chapter 18. Levin explains to Kitty that when he saw his son in danger, he realized how much he loved him. Later in Chapter 19, he turns over in his mind his philosophical thoughts and determines that the good, "revealed to me by Christianity and ... verified in my soul" is enough for now, and he does not need to worry about the beliefs of other religions. From now on, his life will have "the unquestionable meaning of the good."

Analysis

The argument among the men continue, and Koznyshev, ever the political animal, insists that all Russians are on the same page about the Serbian war, but, of course, they are not. The prince is not wrong to say the newspapers are shaping public opinion to make it look like consensus. Because of Levin's new theology, he cannot support the violence of war, which cannot be the "good," and Koznyshev takes Jesus's words about coming with the sword out of context—he surely was not talking about killing people, but rather speaking in metaphor.

Tolstoy provides an epiphany at the end of the novel, as Levin runs to save his family and realizes how much he loves his son. He also confirms his new reason for living, confirmed by Christianity and verified by his own experience. The multiple conclusions may be a reflection of Tolstoy's wandering philosophical reflections as he wrote the novel, or they may be intended to form a unified vision of faith rooted in purpose and love.

The ending of Anna Karenina is unsatisfying for some readers. In the last section of the novel, Levin is feeling so much existential despair that he is afraid he will kill himself. However, he comes through the crisis, unlike his counterpart in the novel, Anna. Anna is ultimately punished for her transgressions. Various critics have interpreted in different ways the epigraph at the beginning of the novel—"Vengeance is mine; I will repay." This quote from the Bible means that vengeance belongs to God, not to man. So the quote can mean either that people should not have judged Anna or that God has judged Anna.

However sympathetic both readers and Tolstoy feel toward Anna, she is ultimately a character who has violated the moral code, for which there are consequences. Levin, on the other hand, is the hero of the story, and he ends up with a happy family and even a blueprint to live by. Both characters were searching for a meaningful way to live—one failed and the other succeeded. What is most unsatisfying is not that Anna died but that Levin's problems have been wrapped up in a neat little package. It seems less than credible that a man with such deep existential anxiety would come through the crisis so quickly and easily, but Tolstoy did not set out to write a conventional novel in penning Anna Karenina.

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