The Implications of the Near-death Experience by Anna During Labor
The idea of seeing a widely loved, magnificent woman go from the envy of St. Petersburg to the deranged, self-obsessed person that made the rash decision to jump underneath a train to get revenge on her husband sounds like a crazy thought. Knowing this, it is important to note that Anna’s suicide in Anna Karenina was no spur of the moment idea. Throughout the later parts of the novel, there is a noticeable decline in Anna’s mental health, leading her to her untimely death. This gives way to the question of just how a woman who had it all developed such angry, vengeful thoughts, and later actions. While these thoughts were not all directed at herself, they were the final straw in her decision to end her life. Although the exact origin of these thoughts and feelings of hers is unknown, it is fairly easy to make an educated guess. In Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, the scene in which Anna nearly dies in labor acts as a turning point for her mental health, eventually leading to her untimely demise.
The decline in Anna’s mental health after the delivery of her second child, Annie, can be seen in people’s first impressions of her before her near-death experience, as opposed to after. Prior to this event, Anna was a kind, loving woman who was highly regarded by everyone who met her. In fact, in Part I, when Countess Vronsky first meets Anna, she states, “As an old woman all I can do is tell you straight out that I’ve fallen in love with you” (Tolstoy 75). This shows how easily people can fall for the charming personality Anna possessed before her near-death experience. While people who meet Anna for the first time after she has Annie still feel the same feelings of adoration for her, they also get an idea of the emotionally drained, tortured soul that lies within. In Part VII, just after meeting Anna for the first time, Levin thinks, “What a wonderful, sweet, pathetic woman….” (Tolstoy 839). This clearly shows that Anna has developed feelings within herself that have become so overpowering that they now overflow into her everyday life, making it so that people can feel her pain. Anna’s inner turmoil developed after the birth of Annie can be seen in the change in people’s initial opinions of her both before and after the event.
Another situation that shows Anna’s mental health decline after the birth of her daughter is the change in the nature of her relationship with Vronsky. Before she became pregnant with Annie, Anna and Vronsky were more concerned with the relationship at hand. They were completely in love, and did not keep it a secret from anyone. In Part II, when Anna and Karenin are on their way back from the horse races, Anna admits, “I’m listening to you and thinking about him. I love him, I’m his mistress, I can’t bear it, I’m afraid- I hate you… You can do whatever you like with me” (Tolstoy 254). This shows Anna’s extreme commitment to Vronsky after they have sex for the first time. While it seems as though their relationship will last a lifetime, as it was based purely on love, that is far from true. Once Anna gives birth to Annie, and nearly dies in the process, her way of thinking about her relationship begins to change, as does his. In Part VI, shortly after Anna has recovered from her near-death experience, Vronsky realizes, “She was completely different now from what she had been when he saw her first. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worst” (Tolstoy 431). This reveals that Vronsky has noticed the new changes in Anna. She is mean, spiteful, and jealous, and he does not like what she has turned into. Also in Part IV, Chapter III, Vronsky thinks, “These attacks of jealousy that had recently been coming over her more and more often horrified him; no matter how he tried to hide this they made him feel colder toward her, in spite of his knowing that the reason for her jealousy was her love for him” (Tolstoy 431). This explicitly shows that Vronsky’s feelings towards Anna have changed now that her mental health is taking a turn for the worst. Because of the birth of Annie, Anna and Vronsky’s relationship is no longer centered around their love for each other, but around their underlying problems with each other that will continue to get worse and worse until Anna decides that she is going to commit suicide as the ultimate form of revenge against Vronsky. The change in the nature of Anna and Vronsky’s relationship after the birth of Annie reflects the decline in Anna’s mental health after her near-death experience.
In Anna Karenina, the topic of Anna’s suicide is one that weighs heavier on the heart. It can be argued that the emotional break that caused her to jump underneath the train on that fateful day could be foreshadowed by her witnessing the peasant dying by getting run over by the train in Part I. While this event may have had a profound effect on her emotionally, it seems as though this idea had been formulated much earlier than right when she saw the freight train arrive at the station in Part VII. The decline in her mental health after the near-death experience she has after the birth of her daughter reveals the fact that her suicide was not a rash decision. Her decision to jump underneath the train was one of anger and revenge, an action produced by the thoughts she begins to have after looking death in the face. In Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, the scene where Anna nearly dies in labor causes a sharp decline in her mental health, eventually leading to her untimely death.
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