"Let your actions be filled with love. Purify your thoughts and then you will have only love. This love will find an object for itself, and it will not be satisfied with you alone, but will love everything that is alive." — Count Leo Tolstoy, from A Calendar of Wisdom
When people sit down to talk about Anna Karenina, two central themes usually emerge: love and death. Perhaps one reason this novel has been so popular since it was first published is precisely because its major themes are two of the most universal and emotional situations human beings face. In Part Five, once his reader has passed the halfway mark and truly knows the characters, Tolstoy turns to these themes as a new focus for exploration.
In terms of love, Tolstoy brings to fruition, powerfully and completely, the love Kitty and Levin have for one another. Despite Levin's usual self-doubt and a newlywed fight or two, Kitty "became more tender towards him, and they experienced a new, redoubled happiness in their love," (p. 482) and Levin felt himself "rejoicing all the while at the feeling of her presence." (p. 483) This passion only grows deeper as the story progresses and Kitty takes full ownership of her role as wife and caretaker. As Kitty matures and owns her new life, her capacity to share her love with others seems to increase by the day.
Anna and Vronsky also strengthen their relationship, though it doesn't seem built on the same foundation that Levin and Kitty enjoy. Nevertheless, there is a strong connection between them. Despite their circumstances, hardships and her health issues, Anna feels that "the more she knew of Vronsky, the more she loved him. She loved him for himself and for his love of her." (p. 464) Even when they behave like ships passing in the night, it is hard to doubt the emotion between Anna and her dashing lover.
Beyond romantic love, in this section of the novel Tolstoy develops many other relationships—and deepens existing relationships—that display the diversity and depth of love. There is Levin's abiding and sometimes tortured love for his dying brother Nikolai. In compliment to this is Kitty's ability to embrace Levin's family by being a mature and competent nurse. Even in times of great crisis, she is steadfast and puts her love on the line. Additionally, the love between Anna and her son crescendos to a tearful reunion, "While they had been apart, and with that surge of love she had been feeling all the time recently, she had imagined him as a four-year-old boy, the way she had loved him most." (p. 533) With this reunion, Anna comes to realize the full extent of the power of her love for her son. And with all these relationships, the idea of love moves beyond simple courtship into a more nuanced, deeper, richer reality.
Love has the strength to alter events. It has the strength to change lives. It has become, by this point in the novel, a driving force behind almost every important action anyone takes. As Tolstoy's characters get better at recognizing their commitment to love, its strong force will become the making or breaking of each and every one.
Part Six Plot Point: Where Hope Lives
More on Anna Karenina...