English 10 Honors
Humanitarian and philosophical insight is usually the intent and achievement of both classic and modern literature. Tolstoy’s drama Anna Karenina embodies this sentiment flawlessly. It is inspired in its depth and intricacy, daring in the complexity of its characters, and powerful in its commentary on the influence of sociality and propriety in contrast to human nature and intrinsic behavior.
Oblonsky, a Moscow man of high society, cheats on his wife and nearly disbands his family; Anna, his sister from Petersburg, intercedes on his behalf with his wife and in the process meets the count Vronsky. Constantine Dmitrich Levin, a childhood friend of Oblonsky’s, comes to Moscow to propose to Katya (Kitty) Scherbatsky, whom Vronsky has been courting, and is consequently turned down by Kitty. Vronsky abandons Kitty to follow Anna home, as he has fallen in love with her, and persuades her (without much difficulty) to cheat on her husband; resultantly, they enter into a passionate love affair that eventually becomes destructive. Almost directly after being rejected, Levin retreats to his home in the country to continue his book on farming techniques, completely unaware of Kitty’s situation, while she is devastated. Karenin, Anna’s husband, begins to suspect of her affair; when he confronts her about it, she denies it completely and makes him feel foolish for suggesting it, and his suspicions are therefore confirmed. When Anna finally declares her fallacy to him, Karenin unsurprisingly becomes despondent and is determined to have revenge on Anna by forcing her to come back to him and keep up old pretences and appearances. Meanwhile, Dolly (Oblonsky’s wife) goes out to live in the country while Oblonsky is away on business, and convinces Levin that Kitty, in truth, does love him. He eventually proposes to her again, and is this time accepted. In Petersburg, Karenin evicts Anna when she breaks his conditions of magnanimity, and is about to divorce her formally when she falls deathly ill during and following childbirth and he miraculously forgives her for everything; unfortunately for him, once she recovers, she still hates him, and (without letting Karenin divorce her) she leaves with Vronsky and begins traveling abroad with him. Vronsky and Anna eventually make it back to Russia, and find a place in the country, and she obtains a divorce from Karenin; Vronsky and Anna as a couple are deteriorating and she eventually kills herself out of despair. Levin and Kitty, despite an initially rocky marriage, financial hardship, and Kitty’s near death in childbirth, live happily ever after.
Anna is kind, beautiful, compassionate, and full of life – she is altogether perfect, and thus she is false. The selfish (occasionally to the point of cruelty) element of her nature begins to display itself after she meets Vronsky. When she is informing her husband of her affair, she is blunt and brutal enough to say, “I was, and I could not help being in despair [in my love for you]. […]. I love him. I am his mistress; I cannot endure you, I am afraid of you and I hate you. “ (231) However, she can’t be completely condemned; she is an extremely complex character, and one can’t help but to sympathize with and pity her for her plight. Through the kindness she shows to those around her, both above and below, and her touchingly profound love of her son, we, as an audience, come to appreciate the ambiguity and convolution of her character and position. On the one hand, she demonstrates definite cruelty to and hatred for her human and injured, if somewhat insensitive and slightly contemptible, husband and on the other, her beatific and untainted love for her son and the kindness and compassion she shows to her brother’s wife.
Vronsky is shallow and fashionable, the epitome of Tolstoy’s commentary on reputedly high society. In the beginning of the novel, he is courting young Kitty,...