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Anna Karenina Booknotes Essay, Research Paper

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy ranks as one of the world’s great writers. He was also an important moral thinker and reformer.

Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, Russia, the fourth of five children. After being educated at Kazan in 1844, he joined the army in 1852. He fought proudly in the Crimean War, and after he left the army, he traveled abroad. He inspected German schools to insure their quality before going to his brother’s side outside of Marseille, France. Nicolai died at a spa with his brother at his side. This death affected Tolstoy so deeply that his writing was the only thing that kept him afloat.

Upon his return, Tolstoy settled on his Volga estate, where he wrote his epic masterpiece War and Peace – the story of five families during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. His next novel, Anna Karenina, written in the romantic period, is one of the great love stories of the world.

He married Sofya Andreyevna Bers, a.k.a. Sonya, and had nine children. Tolstoy then experienced a spiritual crisis which led to such works as A Confession and What I Believe. Some of his similar, earlier struggles were recorded in Anna Karenina, which he had previously published.

Tolstoy converted to his religion, Tolstoyism. This faith said that “only through emotional and religious commitment can one discover this natural truth”. His family disapproved of this and made life around the Tolstoy house unbearable for almost everyone.

In his last days, he transferred his fortune to his wife and lived poorly as a peasant under her roof. Leaving home secretly, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy died of pneumonia some days later at nearby railway station.

Anna is portrayed as a beautiful, mysterious woman who encompasses the quest for personal discovery. She is content in her life, but sees something that she wants more. This love, the love for Vronsky, drives her to unimaginable heights to keep her life and mental state at a safe level. As a woman, Anna suffers great injustices for her actions. These unfair laws of society drive her to her grave.

Levin is representative of Tolstoy’s life. He is a respected, educated, and well off landowner in the aristocracy. His quest for self-discovery leads him out into the fields with his workers, thrashing grass with the rest of them. He also lusts after Kitty, and finally attains her love when she realizes what a good and true man he is. His epiphany during the storm changed his character for the better, as he viewed life differently.

Vronsky is a handsome man who attracts women like a magnet. Although the fairer sex flocks to him, only one made it through to his heart. Anna was at first seen as a trophy by Vronsky, but then it changed when he fell in love with her. He is sometimes stubborn, as illustrated when he pushed his horse too hard (which is also representative of Anna). In the end, he gives up on everything, including life, and goes on a kamikaze mission into the war.

Karenin is Anna’s first husband, a kind man who did not deserve the angst that Anna caused him. Although she was content with Karenin, she lusted after another. When Anna was on her deathbed, Karenin realized who he really was, and restored his faith in God.

Kitty is a character that did a full circle in this novel. She begins as conceited and childish, gossiping and lusting after Vronsky. But as she realizes what a goodhearted man Levin is, she makes a happy life for herself and her family in the country, somewhere she would have never imagined herself living.

Dolly failed to keep her husband satisfied in their marriage, and the book begins with the story of their struggle. She comes to the realization that having children who love her is better than having a husband who is completely in love with her.

Stiva is Dolly’s husband, the man who we meet in the beginning who was “in the doghouse” after his wife learned of his cheating. His cheating destroys her life for awhile, but she forgets the past and goes on. He is not self-destructive – Stiva is destructive to others.

Anna Karenina is a tightly woven story of love, life’s lessons, redemption, and the cycle of life. In this novel, the main character is hard to pinpoint. Although the title suggests that it is indeed Anna Karenina, Levin also plays a major part in Tolstoy’s literary masterpiece. As these two travel down the path of life, they encounter countless other characters and come to many hard decisions. Such is life.

This epic novel begins with the knowledge that Dolly and Stiva Oblonsky are not a happy couple. We meet them as he is sleeping downstairs because of his cheating heart. Stiva leaves to meet his sister, Anna, at the train station. She persuades Dolly not to get a divorce, and concentrate on her wonderful children instead of her cheating husband.

Anna Karenina first meets Count Vronsky at the train station where the watchman is killed. This event is symbolic to what will happen in the relationship between Vronsky and Anna. They meet again the night Levin is utterly turned down by Kitty. This ball in Moscow marks the beginning of two major plots: Levin’s conquest for Kitty and the love affair between Anna and Vronsky. Anna then returns to her home in St. Petersburg and finds that Vronsky followed her. She acts like she has no interest in him, but inside she is re-evaluating her love for her husband. Vronsky stays in Petersburg in order to make Anna leave her life as she knows it and run away with him. While here, Vronsky competes in a horse race. He is riding “Frou-frou”, a beautiful black horse. He is behind, and pushes the horse too hard in the back stretch. This ultimately killed him, for both rider and horse fell and Vronsky had to shoot him. Anna is there with her husband and is very afraid when Vronsky fell. Karenin knew something was wrong because she didn’t bat an eyebrow when another rider fell. Later that night she decides to tell her husband she doesn’t love him and is leaving with Vronsky. The two lovers depart for Italy.

While this is going on, another plot line is being tightly woven into the fabric of this novel. Levin is obsessing over Kitty and will stop at nothing to get her. He is evaluating his life and finds that he does not have self-satisfaction. One day he walks out into the fields with his serfs and picks up a thrasher. He then begins a routine of cutting grass alongside of his employees. This act is the first step to his path back to happiness. The next big step comes when he asks Kitty to marry him. She accepts and they begin their happy life together. Shortly after this, Kitty becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a beautiful, healthy son that would make any man proud. But Levin holds the baby and feels disgust and horror at the whole process of birthing and the fact that he is a father. Later on, a storm sweeps over him and he has a spiritual epiphany and is in some ways “reborn”.

Meanwhile, in Italy, Anna and Vronsky are living it up on their trip together. He decides to try and paint, and Anna comes alive on his canvas. This picture will come into play later in the novel. They get bored and miss life in Russia, so the two decide to come back. Big mistake. Anna is ostracized by society as a whole because she does not have a divorce from her husband and she is running around with Vronsky. Although she is an outcast, Anna goes on living and becomes pregnant. Near the end of her pregnancy, she becomes deathly ill. While lying delirious in bed, Karenin, her husband, comes to her side and forgives her and Vronsky for the pain they have caused in his life. She survives and stays with Vronsky.

While Vronsky is out having a good time, Anna is inside slowly going crazy. Her exclusion from society is a prison cell that is gradually getting smaller and smaller. To help her sleep, Anna takes morphine that was prescribed for her when she lost the baby in her sickness. This proves to be a drug that is a crutch for her whenever she is feeling anxious or depressed. She goes to her son in the middle of the night only to see him for a second and get kicked out of the house. This event triggers her breakdown and the gun finally goes off one night when Anna Karenina travels to a train station and plunges in front of a moving train to her death.

Vronsky has lost everything in his life. He sees it as over. Thus, he goes off to war hoping to die a painless death that will be written off as a valiant effort as he fought for his country. He dies an unhappy and barren man.

The double-edged sword of Russian society claimed two more victims.

Russia in the eighteen hundreds was filled with social gatherings and gossip. Yes, it may sound stereotypical, but work was not a major part of life for the socialites. A woman’s goal was to marry well, have children, and live a convenient life. Much like this, a man wanted to be rich so that he could marry a beautiful woman and have children while leading a life of convenience. This atmosphere triggered curiosity among both men and women. As in the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit looked better every other piece of fruit in the garden. Thus, like eating the apple, these men and women cheated on their spouses. Because of all the cheating, there had to be rules. Women got the short end of the stick, as they would not be accepted in society if they were married and seeing another man. Men, on the other hand, could do as they pleased with whomever they pleased. This double-edged sword caused pain and death in many hearts during this novel.

Tolstoy writes in third person as an observer of each character. This provides the reader with knowledge of all characters, not just the point of view, which comes with first person novels. He also uses the literary device of interior monologue. The reader knows, essentially, the past, present, and future aspirations of each character. This brings the reader down to each character’s level so that they feel a bond with each one. The most famous interior monologue of the novel is when Anna is driving to the train station with intentions of killing herself.

Three different languages are represented in this book: Russian (which we read in English because of translation), French, and German. The reader is mainly dealing with English, but the other uses of languages provide insight into the characters speaking them. French is spoken by the snobs who find it fashionable to speak a language of romance. German is spoken by scientists, representing the scientific achievements that Germany was famous for at the time of this novel.

Anna Karenina is written like two twisty roads that sometimes cross paths during their course. Anna is on one of those roads, making her way through the trails and tribulations that come with love. Levin is traveling on the other, beginning alone, but ending with his wife Kitty at his side. Tolstoy weaves the two stories together so that the reader could simultaneously be in the middle of two different aspects of Russian society.

Length is a major part of this book, as millions of teenage readers gripe about the 900+ pages they encounter when they open their summer reading book. Russian writers were paid by the length of their stories, thus this one would have made Tolstoy a pretty penny. It is also written like a soap opera, where pages could be filled with the description of one split-second event.

There are two major themes in this novel: marriage and the rules of Russian society, and reason and chance. The first has already been explained throughout this report. Reason and chance is illustrated throughout the novel, beginning with the man being run over by the train. This foretells Anna’s death. Although this was a chance situation, it still predicts what will happen at the end. Symbolism comes into play, and goes along with reason and chance. Examples of symbolism are the painting, the accident on horseback, and the accident at the train station.

When writing the dialogue in the book, Tolstoy uses an apostrophe sign ( ‘ ). These are used when there is dialogue inside of dialogue. This suggests that he is telling a story. This literary technique adds to the style in the way that the reader feels like they are listening to the story while it is unfolding before their eyes.

“All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (page 1, narrator) Tolstoy deals with many unhappy families in this novel, and the story is built by the way that they are unhappy.

” ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense!’ ” (page 54, Oblonsky to Vronsky) This is an example of the French dialect used in this story. The two men are joking around and Oblonsky says he is meeting a beautiful woman at the station, and Vronsky thinks he is cheating. Oblonsky then reveals that it is his sister, Anna.

“A watchman, either tipsy or too much muffled up because of the severe frost, had not heard a train that was being shunted, and had been run over. ?.’What is the matter with you, Anna?’ he asked. ‘It is a bad omen’, she replied.” (pages 59-60, narrator explaining accident, then Oblonsky speaking to Anna) This is the event that foretells Anna’s death.

“She knew the feeling and knew it’s symptoms, and recognized them in Anna – she saw the quivering light flashing in her eyes, the smile of happiness and elation that involuntarily curled her lips, and the graceful position, the exactitude and lightness of her movements. ?.but Vronsky?. bewilderment and humbled submissiveness, like the expression of an intelligent dog when it has done wrong.” (page 74, narrator) When Anna and Vronsky first met, she fell in love with him. He, on the other hand, saw her as a trophy.

“but hoping to win by a distance, began working the reins with a circular movement, raising and dropping the mare’s head in time with her stride. He felt she was using her last reserve of strength; not only her neck and shoulders were wet, but on her withers, her head, and her pointed ears the sweat stood in drops, and she was breathing short and sharp. ?.He himself, without knowing it, had made the unpardonable mistake of dropping back in his saddle and pulling up her head. ?The mare had broken her back and it was decided to shoot her.” (page 182, narrator) Vronsky realized that he had pushed the mare too hard at the exact second that he ultimately killed her. This horse, a beautiful black mare named Frou-Frou, is representative of Anna because he did the same thing to her.

“Levin followed, and often thought he would certainly fall when climbing a mound with his scythe in his hand – a mound so steep that it would have been hard to climb it and to do all that had to be down; and he felt as if some external force were urging him on.” (page 233, narrator) Levin picked up his scythe and went into the fields to work side by side his peasants. This made him realize what a good man he really was, and set him at peace.

” ‘No,’ said he to himself. ‘Beautiful as is that life of simplicity and toil, I cannot turn to it. I love her!’ ” (page 253, narrator speaking of Levin’s inner monologue) Levin loved Kitty so much that he would give up his country life for her.

“Vronsky as particularly fortunate in that he had a code of rules ?.The code categorically determined that though the card-sharper must be paid, the tailor need not be; that one may not lie to a man, but might to a woman; that one must not deceive anyone, except a husband?..” (page 278, narrator) The text in bold is very significant because it illustrates Vronsky’s view on life, and also the Russian society rules. A man can do as a he pleases, but a woman cannot.

“Levin, gazing at this time piteous being, vainly searched his soul for some indications of paternal feeling, He felt nothing for it but repulsion.” (page 650, narrator) Levin had not found peace, and he looked into his child’s eyes and felt dislike for the little boy.

“The candle, by the light of which she had been reading that book filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief, and evil, flared up with a brighter light than before, lit up for her all that had before been dark, flickered, began to grow dim, and went out for ever.” (page 695, narrator) Tolstoy compares Anna’s life to a candle – it had once been bright, but had grown so dim that at her death there was not very much light left to go out at her death.

“Throughout the whole day, amid most varied conversations in which he took part only with what one may call the external side of his mind, Levin, despite his disillusionment with the change that should have taken place in him, did not cease to be joyfully aware of the fullness of his heart.” (page 736, narrator) Levin had an epiphany during a storm that ended his struggle for meaning – he had found peace.


my own head

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