Character Journeys in Anna Karenina
Unlike most of the other men in the novel who keep their emotional life and their married life separate, Levin brings all of his inner resources to his relationship with Kitty. He lays himself bare before her and invests his heart and soul into the bond they build together. "He understood not only that she was close to him, but that he no longer knew where she ended and he began." (p.482) As a husband, Levin doesn't just take on the "manly" responsibilities of working and earning a living. He also strives to be responsive to his wife's needs. "Her petty fussing and cares several times offended him. But he saw that she needed it. And loving her as he did, though he did not understand why, though he chucked at those cares, he could not help admiring them." (p.480). Levin provides a model of what it means to be a man of courage, ideals and heart. Levin finds happiness in love because he is not afraid to make himself emotionally vulnerable and to put his love for Kitty higher than his love for himself.
The Hope of a Man
More than any other man in the novel, Levin struggles desperately to find faith and meaning in an uncertain world. This is the source of much of his suffering. None of the "solutions" provided by organized religion or the other social institutions of his time satisfy Levin. Yet despite Levin's moments of confusion, hurt and loss, I believe he embodies a message of hope. Consider the many moments of bliss and wonder that he experiences: the sublime love leading up to and during their marriage, his terrified rapture during the birth of his son, his feelings of ecstasy while mowing with his peasants in the fields. Even by the end of the novel, Levin never becomes a purely religious believer, but realizes that his life does have a higher purpose: "...my whole life...is not only not meaningless, as it was before, but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put into it." (p. 817) Happiness and meaning, Levin discovers, come from within.
Just as Tolstoy describes vice and frailty, he also describes the courage of the human spirit. In Levin, Tolstoy expresses his faith in the human potential for self-transformation. Tolstoy came to this faith the hard way. More than once in his life, the author was on the verge of suicide. In fact, the scene in Part Eight in which Levin hides the ropes and rifles so that he won't kill himself was actually taken from the pages of Tolstoy's own life. "But Levin did not shoot himself or hang himself and went on living." (p. 798) So did Tolstoy.
What was the powerful inner spark that brought both of them back from the brink of despair? It was Tolstoy's (and Levin's) conviction that, no matter how difficult things can sometimes become, life is always worth living. Remember, the novel doesn't end with Anna's tragedy, but with Kitty and Levin's productive family life in the country. Both of these truths—the suffering and the joys of life—are perfectly intertwined in Anna Karenina. One cannot exist without the other. But the balance tilts towards happiness in the end. As Levin's journey shows, no matter how badly human beings stumble and fall, the strength and beauty of the human spirit always shines through.
Examine plot points and discussion questions in Oprah's Book Club guide to Anna Karenina.