Plot Points and Themes in Anna Karenina
"The greatest joy is that you can endure anything. You may suffer slander or physical pain, yet in the end you are able to feel no animosity. Such joy cannot be destroyed, even by your own suffering." — Count Leo Tolstoy, from A Calendar of Wisdom
For the most part, Anna Karenina is not a particularly hopeful novel. Many of the major characters have seemingly insurmountable setbacks in their lives, and several core relationships seem challenging at best. Yet, to write Tolstoy off as a pessimist or naysayer is too easy—and also misleading based on circumstances that emerge three-quarters of the way through the novel that imply all may be well.
To start with, we are granted a new appreciation for Dolly and her relationship not only with her sisters and children, but also her sister-in-law Anna. In some respects, when we reach Part Six, Dolly has almost been forgotten. She now re-emerges as a catalyst for learning much more about Kitty and Levin, the true state of her own marriage in the wake of the destruction that Stiva's continued affairs leave and Anna's secret hopes and fears for Dolly's future. Dolly becomes a worthy vehicle to explore the connections these seemingly disparate characters actually continue to share.
In addition, both women and men are portrayed in their "natural habitats" much more than earlier in the book. With Dolly staying at the Levin's estate for the summer, normal family events, "girl talk" and a concentration on the minutiae of everyday relationships feel a lot more prevalent. In the same way, the men's hunting outing, along with Levin's trip to Moscow for Kitty's confinement, give rise to many details of Levin's everyday activities and thoughts.
As Part Six wraps up, Anna and Vronsky—who previous to this point have had a tumultuous relationship—are "now settled together like a married couple." (p. 669) Despite a cooling off of his passion, Vronsky says to Anna, "There's nothing I wish more than not to be separated from you." (p. 668) This tenderness on his part follows a general trend in all the romantic (and non-romantic) relationships in Anna Karenina at this point. If this section of the novel symbolizes anything, it's a returning to the fraternity, family connections and earnest development of relationships that was left off earlier to concentrate on more dramatic and weighty concerns.
By drilling down to the essential lives of these characters—who we have come to know so well—Tolstoy gives his readers a chance to appreciate their subtle nuances and their humanity. We recognize and confront not just the tumult and passion of their circumstances, but also the positive spirit that can come from simple acts of living, and living well. For everyone we've met thus far, especially for Levin and Kitty, this comparatively gentle interlude gives us a glimpse of the hope and promise of their futures.
Part Seven Plot Point: Death Rumbles By
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