Themes Of Life And Death In Anna Karenina By Leo Tolstoy
Is Anna Entirely To Blame For Her Death?
It may be easy to point the finger at Anna for the cause of her own death. Yes, she did make the choice to commit adultery. She had the choice to not be in an affair with Vronsky. But, she is not one hundred percent to blame for her death. If we take a step back and look at the people who surround Anna’s life, certain people are also to blame for her passing. First-person to slowly eat away at Anna, Vronsky. He penetrated into her soul to win her over. When he succeeds, what she thought would turn into happiness, became a living hell. Their relationship is only built on infatuation. Through Vronksy’s eye, we only see Anna as this object which he controls. Her husband, Karenin, showed absolutely no affection towards her. Their relationship has no means of communication. Karenin’s only desire is for Anna to behave in society so her actions don’t backfire at Karenin. Karenin wants his name to stay clean, not conflicted with drama that could bring his name to shame. As Anna keeps disobeying his wishes, she then loses her right to see her son. Thus, a huge part of Anna has died. Most of all, Society is what finishes Anna off. Society no longer welcomes Anna to balls, operas or to even be accepted by her so-called “friends”. One by one, Anna is slowly condensed into her own box. There is little air left inside this box that she is left in. She slowly suffocates when she is left alone with her own thoughts.
In Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, we see Anna slowly going in a downward spiral with her mental health. There are many benefactors as to why she led to suicide. Some of why she became so ill are due to her own actions, but also the people she surrounds herself with. This also includes society’s factors. I believe this all begins with the night of the ball. Vronsky was supposed to be with kitty, yet he chose Anna instead. Thus, the kitty’s jealousy and dislike towards Anna. For kitty, this felt like a betrayal. As I stated earlier, we never really see Anna for who she is, but we see her through other peoples’ eyes. She is solely looked at to be an object for men.
What Vronsky finds fatally attractive in Anna is precisely the tenuously maintained balance of forces that he senses in her almost immediately (at the ball). Vronsky is an egoist, and therefore a creature of stasis, who strives above all to stay within himself and draw everything he wants into himself. In comparison with him, Anna, quick and open, is spiritual. Vronsky misinterprets her and only sees in her only what a completely earthbound creature can see.
Vronsky mainly thought of himself. He did not truly realize the sort of pain that Anna had gone through. How many sacrifices and losses she has gone through for Vronsky. Although Vronsky wanted to finally be officially married and have more children with Anna, I firmly believe he used Anna to gain a higher status. He never did try to comply with her or to gain a deeper understanding of what she has lost in order to be with him.
In Donna Orwin’s book “Tolstoy’s art and thought,” she describes how Anna’s soul is trying to fight off the devil. Anna knows deep down in her soul that what she is doing is wrong, yet that devil who lies on her left shoulder tells her to give in. Donna Orwin states, “The first three parts of the novel chart Anna’s spiritual struggle against the evil demon in her soul that wants to occupy it exclusively. Her conscience speaks many times, making it possible for readers to blame her (because she knows the good and still chooses the bad) and to pity and admire her for her noble struggle.”(Page 185, Donna Orwin). Thus, once Vronsky is able to take over Anna, he penetrates through her soul and wins her over. Anna does not stand a chance against Vronsky. What appears to be Anna’s deathbed during childbirth, that evil entity vanishes. The good Anna is back once again and repents for forgiveness as her dying wish.
Anna rejects the other who she fell in love with. She only desires Karenin’s forgiveness and then death. Bad Ana is resurrected and comes to dominate her soul again. Her surrender to Vronsky has meant the fatal dominion of the body over the soul, a dominion challenged only when Anna is dying.
Anna chooses Vronsky again, which means a fatal dominion of the body oversoul. As death fails to do its part, the evil entity once again returns and controls Anna. She seeks more than physical touch. She desires a more spiritual bond on a deeper level, onto which Vronsky could not provide for her. Thus, is one of the ways that drives Anna into a spiral. Eventually, this is also a betrayal to Anna’s husband, Karenin. Once Karenin learns how much compassion Anna shows towards Vronsky at the horse race, he asks Anna to not show such emotion in society. He says it looks very bad for their public figure. He would prefer society to not be involved in their affairs to ruin his status. After the races, Anna tells Karenin about her infidelity. Funny enough, Karenin does not appear to be angry at her for committing adultery. It is not that he accepts her relationship with Vronsky, but he only asks her to obey his every command and to stop seeing Vronsky. Anna is rebellious to her husband’s wishes to not flaunt her new relationship to the public eye. She continues to flaunt her feelings and society begins to notice it. The word gets out quickly to the public. In Gary L. Browning’s chapter of “The Death of Anna Karenina. Anna’s share of the blame”, he writes how Frou Frou’s death foreshadows and intertwines with Anna’s unfortunate death. Browning also agrees that Vronsky is involved with Anna’s death. Vronsky is who killed Anna’s innocent alter ego, frou-frou, the horse. There is a lot of guilt that resides with Vronsky.
Although many readers acknowledge that Anna contributes to her demise, but feel that if Vronsky had been more competent and sensitive, that her tragedy might well have been averted. Most who have written about Anna Karenina correctly observe that the horse race symbolically depicts Vronsky’s principle deficiencies-his failure to keep up with the pace”, and, as a result, his ten-day to commit the awkward movement, especially at critical times. This weakness arises from a general superficiality, dilettantism, insensitivity, and overconfidence. Vronsky, of course, has positive sides to his appearance, personality, and behavior, and he does try to rise above his former social code. But Tolstoy reminds his readers that Vronsky’s flaws are significant in the tragedy of Anna, as they are decisive in the death of Frou Frou.
As I was mentioning earlier, Anna was supposedly dying from childbirth. At this time, we see a change in character with Karenin. He becomes to appear like a saint and even shows raw emotion for her. Something we had never seen during the entire novel until this moment. As Anna is asking Karenin for forgiveness, she does not entirely give the sincerest apology. She blames it was this ̈other ̈person who had taken control of her and made these poor decisions. In reality, Anna is not taking the entire blame for falling in love with another person. Once she recovers, she moves out of Karenin’s household. Men had power and ownership of all of the women’s belongings. Anna can’t even have a letter to keep for herself. Since Anna made the decision to leave and be with Vronsky, she is no longer allowed to return to her home, nor is she allowed to ever see her son again. Although it is Anna’s choice to abandon her son for the one she loves, she more so does this for Vronsky ́s sake. According to Anna, she feels he does not comprehend the pain she has gone through to keep his love. Anna ́s relationship is compared to Frou Frou because of the highs Vronsky has with his horse. There is a high of ecstasy and pleasure, but what goes up must come down. Eventually resulting in her death and unhappiness.
Society is one of the key weapons that killed Anna. Society in contemporary times expects us to play a certain role, to act as a certain norm. In an essay by (so and so) wrote that Tolstoy painted Anna as a sympathetic character, unable to stay true to herself because of society’s corruption. She observes how Tolstoy pinpoints his views on women in society during this age, whether they are happy, unhappy, high class, low class, city life, and rural life. Throughout this novel, it has been made very clear that many people who are in relationships themselves committed adultery.
Anna is not condemned in society for having an affair, but for blatantly flaunting society’s norms of discrete conduct. Having an affair wasn’t was considered heinous. Princess Betsy, a cousin of Vronsky ́s even encourages Anna’s affair at the beginning, though when Anna leaves Karenin, Betsy both refuses to see her and to reintroduce her into society, despite the fact that Betsy herself has been having an affair. Many in Anna ́s high circle class know of her affair at the beginning, but find nothing shameful in it until Anna and Vronsky cease to hide their affections.
As much as Anna ́s husband wishes for her to not show any sign of emotion for society to see, Anna realizes she can not like these feelings that consume her. Her disregard for society’s demands for a false front is what offends society, not her affair. What society views as unacceptable are to break apart one ́s family and flaunt One’s affair in front of the world. While many other characters in the novel have affairs, none of them are reprimanded or suffer the consequence as Anna has.
This in fact goes for women in Anna Karenina. Society imposed its expectations on Anna, although there is a double standard based on gender. We are able to witness how men and women are treated completely differently after committing adultery. She is very well influenced by society. She likes to go out into the public, to balls and operas. However, her world grows smaller and smaller. She is trapped inside her own grave that she and others have dug for her. She learns she is no longer wanted at any event. People around her despite her and feel disgusted to even be in her presence as if having an affair is contagious. She is shunned for attending the opera.
Vronsky advises Anna to not go to the opera house because he believes she will find nothing but pain from the outside world who is against her actions. Once Anna left Karenina and lives with Vronsky “demonstrates the contempt Anna faces from society for her actions.” As Anna enters the opera, she knows how completely vulnerable she is and how she will be betrayed or stabbed by people she was once close with. “Her shoulders are bare, she stands out proudly in front of the row box. This scene describes Anna’s painful answer to her dilemma of whether to stay true to herself and reveal herself for what she is, having had an affair while married, or hide away from society and pretend that their censure does not matter”. Despite knowing the consequences of attending the ball, she did not expect to be publicly humiliated and having everyone watch her every move.
She has nowhere to go but in her room at the house. Towards the end of the novel, she starts to develop this very erratic behavior. She has many manic spells of jealousy. Her belief is that Vronsky no longer loves her and is flirting with other women as he pleases. Her surroundings even become strange. She does not trust her own actions even with proof, becomes very delirious, and doubts her every action. She is left alone with delirious thoughts. In order to sleep, she starts to take morphine to calm her nerves. The public judges her and thinks of her as being a worthless and despicable woman for loving another man while being married. Yet, Anna’s brother, Oblonsky, has an affair but isn’t ostracized for his infidelity. For men, they can get away with adultery. Treatment based on gender is a common theme in this novel by Leo Tolstoy. To me, it seems like Vronsky is being praised for being with a woman whose husband is higher in society.
Anna has an unwanted child outside of wedlock. She shows little to no attention to her daughter. In fact, she has her own nanny to watch over her daughter. She has no affection for her. It’s as if seeing her daughter reminds her of the terrible choices that she made, therefore she tries to avoid being confronted with the truth. It also seems that the birth of her daughter was one of the last straws that broke the camel’s back. Her love resides with her son, Seryozha. She shows him love and compassion. Her world is torn when she learns that Karenin doesn’t allow her to see her son, and they even tell Seryozha his mom is dead. They would rather tell a lie than tell the truth of what happened between them. Is it better to lie than to be truthful in this situation? Her son is a huge part of her life. Anna mourns for her son and arrives unannounced at Karenina’s house. They both embrace each other and cry. She knows this will be the last time she sees her son. Psychologically thinking, this tears Anna apart because not only is she not wanted in society, but now she has lost her role as a mother to all her children. At this point forward, Anna only desires death. She wishes that she had died during childbirth than to face any more heartache in her life.
Taking everything into consideration, Anna was not only to blame for her tragic and sudden death. Vronsky, her husband who did not love her, took her son away from her, and society smothering her for staying true to herself are the main reasons why she chose death. Firstly, If Anna were to have a great relationship that involved a well-developed communication style, then maybe certain issues would never have occurred. Secondly, Karenin should have followed through with his divorce papers, even if it may have ruined his role in society. By pretending to be in a relationship, where anna no longer loves him and is made clear that she loves Vronsky only makes his case look worse than to have a witness to testify his accusation of adultery was true. However, even if he were to go through with divorce papers, Karenin still punishes Anna by not allowing her to even set eyes on her son. Thirdly, Vronsky not being able to show sympathy and understanding for the woman he wants to marry, only makes Anna feel like a fool and that all of what she has done is for nothing. Lastly, society puts the cherry on top. There is no hope, but only death in anna ́s eyes.
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