Anna Karenina: Characters and the Life Novel

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Anna Karenina: Characters and the Life Novel

By examining the character list, one immediately notices the value Tolstoy places on character. With one hundred and forty named characters and several other unnamed characters, Tolstoy places his central focus in Anna Karenina on the characters. He uses their actions and behavior to develop the plot and exemplify the major themes of the novel. In contrast to Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Tolstoy wishes to examine life as it really is. Both novels have relationships and adultery as a central theme. However, Tolstoy gives us a much more lifelike representation in Anna Karenina by creating characters, both major and minor, that contribute to the sense of realism.

The most striking feature of Tolstoy's minor characters is that although they may only appear briefly, they still possess a sense of lifelikeness. When a character is introduced, Tolstoy provides the reader with details of the characters appearance and actions that give a sense of realism. For example, the waiter that Stiva and Levin encounter at their dinner, although a flat character is definitely presented in a manner which allows him to have a sense of lifelikeness and fullness. From the speech patterns the waiter uses to the description of the fit of his uniform, one is presented with the details that allow the waiter to contribute to the novel in means beyond simply the presence of a minor character. His description and actions provide the novel with a sense of "real life".

Another way in which Tolstoy gives the minor character a sense of life is by making them unpredictable. One sees this in the character of Ryabinin. When initially discussed, the reader is told that upon conclusion of business, Ryabinin will always say "positively and finally" (p161). However upon conclusion of the sale of the land, Ryabinin does not use his usual tag. This tag would normally be characteristic of the flat, minor character such as Ryabinin.

However, Tolstoy wishes to add to the lifelikeness of even his minor characters and allows them to behave as one would expect only major, round characters. The detail Tolstoy gives to all of his characters, including the minor characters, contributes to the realism of both the novel and the characters.

Perhaps the most realistic of Tolstoy's major characters is Konstantin Levin. Throughout the novel, the reader witnesses the trials of Levin's life and his response to them. Unlike Flaubert, Tolstoy reveals Levin in a manner which gives him a sense of roundedness and lifelikeness. On his quest for meaning in his life, Levin is essentially a realist, just as Tolstoy wishes to be in writing Anna Karenina.

We first encounter Levin when he arrives in Moscow to propose to Kitty Shtcherbatsky. When Kitty refuses his proposal, Levin has been defeated in the first step he feels is necessary for personal satisfaction. After the refusal, Levin returns again to the county in hopes of finding personal satisfaction in the country life style. He turns to farming, mowing with the peasants and other such manual work to fill his time, all the while still searching for meaning in his life. This desire for meaning remains unfulfilled until he finds happiness and a sense of family happiness in his marriage to Kitty.

However, even in this state of happiness, Levin must face tragedy. Soon after the marriage, Levin's sickly brother, Nicolai Dmitrich Levin, is dying of tuberculosis and Levin must confront his death. This death adds to Levin's sense of the reality of life, realizing that life now not only centers on living but on not living. This event, combined with his previous search for meaning, brings Levin to the conclusion that one must live for their soul rather that for a gratification through things such as marriage and family.

It is this epiphany that gives Levin his sense of roundedness. Levin has grown from the beginning of the novel when his search...
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