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The “Anna Karenina” Tolstoy

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    In contrast to a majority of the characters in Anna Karenina, Konstantin Levin provides a breath of fresh air as his conservative, humble nature and functionalist view on life antagonizes that of his many friends, particularly Stiva. While the two have been long time childhood friends, they live vastly different lives, as “to each of them it seemed that the life he led was the only real life, and the one his friend led was a mere illusion”. When Levin visits Stiva’s workplace in Part 1 of the novel, his discomfort in such a posh environment is evidenced when Stiva’s coworkers analyze his stature. They “did not allow him any freedom of thought”, as he stuck out like a sore thumb in that environment. While they spoke in French and Levin in Russian, they wore decorated clothes and commented on others’ appearances to Levin’s dismay. Throughout Anna Karenina, Tolstoy is very descriptive when describing thoughts of various characters. When Levin witnesses several practices of the so called upper class, he states, “it was eerie and awkward for him to be in a tavern, next to private rooms where one dined in the company of ladies, amidst this hustle and bustle.

    These surroundings of bronze, mirrors, gas–lights, Tatars – it was all offensive to him”. This emphasizes Levin’s aversion to it all; the splendor of luxury, more specifically, wasted luxury as according to Levin, wealth is spent on useless objects only for a matter of appearances. Levin is also one who values functionality over appearance, as evidenced by his nails and observation of others nails. He states, “‘You can’t conceive how queer… that gentleman’s nails I saw at your place’…We in the country try to bring our hands into such a state as will be most convenient for working with’”. While people in the aristocratic liberal party leave their nails to grow out for decorative purposes, Levin finds this absurd as “they can do nothing with their hands”. Levin’s refusal to conform to the upper circles of Russia manifests in his refusal to speak French, like many of the other characters do. When he observes a mother telling her daughter to speak solely in French, he ”found this disagreeable.”

    Additionally, Levin, unlike Stiva and most aristocrats, does not conform the political views of society. Levin himself is a conservative, skeptical of Russia’s assimilation into Western culture. Unlike his aristocratic family and friends, he chooses his political beliefs based on his own values, not the values given to him by society. He states “I consider myself an aristocrat and people like myself… who never lowered themselves before anyone, never depended on anyone”. He is a very independent spirit by choice, not need. Chapters 12 and 13 of Part 2 of Anna Karenina focus on Levin’s rebirth; in contrast to the previous descriptions of decadent indoor furniture, Chapters 12 and 13 focus on descriptions of nature, as Levin lives in rural Russia. One particular image is the transition from winter to spring, which symbolizes a rebirth of hope and love in Levin. Tolstoy states, “then suddenly, on Easter Monday, a warm wind began to blow, dark clouds gathered, and for three days and three nights war, heavy rain poured down”. The warm wind contrasts sharply to the imagery previously described, in which there were warm winds throughout the day but huge temperature drops during the night.

    The rain further symbolizes the turn of a new page, as it is washing away the despair that winter left.  The time period of Easter further symbolizes rebirth, as, shortly after this time, Stiva visits Levin and informs him of Kitty’s sick condition, which gives Levin hope. Prior to the description of spring, Levin and Kitty’s love lives remained rather stagnant. Both were suffering from rejection, as Kitty was rejected from Vronsky, and Levin from Kitty. Although Levin’s despair didn’t take a physical toll on his body like Kitty’s did, both were undoubtedly hindered by their inability to find love, which corresponded to the fact that it was winter. Kitty was so sick that, according to Stiva in Chapter 16, they feared for her life. She was sent to several doctors, as her condition severely worsened. “Spring is the time of plans and projects. And going out to the yard, Levin, like a tree in spring, not yet knowing where and how its young shoots and branches, still confined in swollen buds, will grow, did not himself know very well… but he felt that he was filled with the very best plans and projects”.

    With this new information on Kitty, Levin’s love and hope is rekindled. Not only is Levin similar to the tree in spring, but subsequently, so is the relationship between Levin and Kitty. In contrast to many of the other relationships, in specific Anna and Vronsky, Stiva and his governess, the relationship between Levin and Kitty is one that develops slow and steady. Their relationship blooms throughout the entirety of the book, starting out rough but ending on a high note. Conversely, this is the opposite for Anna and Vronsky as the two quickly fall into love, not truly knowing what love is. Although there are many bumps initially, with Kitty falling “in love” with Vronsky, Levin being discouraged by this fact, their relationship slowly but surely developed. While the rapid relationship of Anna and Vronsky symbolize a train, that ultimately crashes to its death, Kitty and Levin’s are far from this symbol and instead, follow the course of nature. It is during spring when Levin’s feelings are rekindled, his hope returned.

    Because of the slow development of the relationship, the both of them are more invested in each other, as they took the time to make sure their feelings were genuine. Levin is not somebody who acts on impulse, as prior to the start of the story he had already been infatuated with Kitty, and only visited Stiva in Part 1 to revisit his love. It took him a great deal of time to muster the courage to propose to her in the first place, and when rejected, instead of impulsively moving on, he grieved. No other relationship is as genuine, as all others lead to infidelity. Tolstoy describes Levin as a paradigm for all men, as he is the most moral, humble character and ultimately the one that ends up with the “happy ending.” Not only that, but he is the most relatable character, making him also the most favorable character to readers. He draws many parallels to Tolstoy himself, and represent the “old Russian identity” as he lives far away from the modern cities that his friends reside in. Tolstoy’s positive descriptions of Levin demonstrate his skeptical attitude towards the changing Russian society at the time of publication.

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