Anna Karenina and Levin—Intersecting Lives
Our sense that there is some unspoken, invisible bond between Anna Karenina and Levin may in fact be what creates a sense of unity in the novel. Since Anna and Levin meet only once, this other kinship that binds them (and their halves of the novel) mostly operates beneath the surface of the plot. It is part of the hidden structure that Tolstoy was so proud of: at one point he spoke of the "hidden labyrinth of linkages" that operates in Anna Karenina; at another point Tolstoy explained that in Anna Karenina "the unity in the structure is created not by action and not by relationships between the characters, but by an inner continuity." If that is the case, then what inner connections bind Anna and Levin? Is there a natural affinity between them? Are they soul mates or antitheses? On the surface, they are so different and lead very different lives. For much of the novel, their lives appear to go in different courses: Levin moves into marriage, family life and meaningful activities, whereas Anna takes the opposite course. We often may feel that Tolstoy is simply using the double plot to divide the world into those who make the right choices (Levin and Kitty) and those who make the wrong ones (Anna and Vronsky). When, for example, we see Levin in action with his milk cow Pava and Vronsky in action with his racehorse Frou-Frou (in Parts One and Two), it may seem as though Tolstoy is using these parallel episodes to establish a simplistic opposition of two kinds of masculine behavior, one nurturing and the other destructive. But Tolstoy at times definitely seems to be doing something more than simply polarizing the two plots.
In fact, Tolstoy was forever developing binary oppositions only to deflate them, whether in his own life or in his fiction. Opposites turn out to be twins, each of which feels incomplete. Thus, even while Tolstoy has been opposing Anna's plot and Levin's, he has been hinting at mysterious convergences of their lots in life.
Anna and Levin converge—and the plot thickens—in two critical episodes late in the novel. One occurs when Anna and Levin come together for the first time in Part Seven, the other when Levin is found in Part Eight asking the same question—Why live?—that haunted Anna and drove her under the train.
These convergences may change how we respond to the novel. Distinctions that seem clear may become murky.
What are the parallels in their identities?