Anna Karenina and Levin—Intersecting Lives
If Levin isn't able to pity or help her, where does this leave Anna? This is the question that tormented Tolstoy. He had to have Levin retreat, but there is still a certain cruelty to what happens thereafter. Anna dies alone. No doubt, Anna is at fault here, because she rebuffs Vronsky and alienates him. Anna, at this point in the novel, is cold-hearted, manipulative, a bad mother, an adulteress, a dope addict, a jealous shrew and a sex fiend. Anna becomes all those things, and yet, just before her death we learn from her inner monologue that for all the hatred she feels, she still yearns for love and understanding. Anna dies making the sign of the cross and begging God for forgiveness.
Tolstoy doesn't have any solution to the problem of Anna beyond having other people's lives go on. In Part Eight, we find that Anna is out of sight and out of mind. Readers, still reeling from Anna's death, may wonder what to make of Anna's absence from the minds and hearts of those who knew her. Vronsky may still remember her, but he's on his way to oblivion in Serbia. Stiva, who sobbed desperately over his dead sister's body at the train station, goes about his business and sees Vronsky only as a "hero and an old friend." (p. 774) When Dolly notes that Stiva met Vronsky at the train station, the general conversation goes to the war, not to Anna. We are left to wonder what Dolly has been feeling about Anna's suicide, especially since Anna had come to her that day. Why has Tolstoy let everyone seem ready to forget Anna, especially in a novel that is still called Anna Karenina?
Tolstoy does plant reminders of Anna's life and death in the last part of the novel. He does so by having Levin go through a spiritual crisis, which is very different and yet eerily similar to what Anna went through. Levin wants to know, "What am I? And where am I? And why am I here?" (p. 792), much as Anna asked, "Where am I? What am I doing? Why?" before throwing herself under the train (p. 768). Much like Anna, Levin starts to see only one means of "deliverance" from the torment of his questions: death. Thus we find that "happy in his family life, a healthy man, Levin was several times so close to suicide that he hid a rope lest he hang himself with it, and was afraid to go about with a rifle less he shoot himself." (p. 789) At this point, Levin and Anna emerge as kindred spirits and Tolstoy achieves the inner continuity that holds the novel together.
Yet we will be reminded of a difference between what happens to Levin and what happens to Anna...