Tolstoy’s Portrayal Of Family Structure

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

 “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy 1). This famous opening line in the novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy portrays how one decision can lead to an unfortunate collapse of an entire family. The novel takes place in late 19th century Russia during a time where the country didn’t know the direction it wanted to go. Throughout the book many of these characters life’s are stuck in a similar situation, where the choices they make can affect the ones they truly love. The book starts off by Tolstoy introducing his character, Oblonsky, and his detrimental affair. In the novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, he explores the idea of family structure through his characters with his own cultured unique writing style during a time of political and societal change.      

 Tolstoy presents one example of family structure through his character named Oblonsky. Tolstoy describes Oblonsky as being a very outgoing and generally uplifting person to be around, but when it comes to his feelings, he is a completely different person. Oblonsky’s feelings later prove to be reason for the downfall of his marriage to Dolly due to the fact that he cheated on her with the Governess and felt “sorry for his wife, their children and himself” (3). Dolly is infuriated at Oblonsky for going behind her back, but still loves him even while she is filled with the feeling of betrayal. After all of this they decide to keep their marriage afloat, but then slowly start to drift apart, as well as the structure of their family as a whole. Tolstoy portrays another example of family structure during the scene where Oblonsky goes to Petersburg for business reasons. When he’s gone, Dolly moves out to the country along with her children to save money, while Oblonsky is living like a bachelor and watching horse races. Later, while Oblonsky is away, his family has a very difficult time adjusting to the challenges and the culture of living out in the country. Oblonsky’s life has turned self-centered, and he appears to no longer love Dolly, as it states that he was “incapable of recalling he had a wife and children” (310). Tolstoy depicts yet another example of family structure during the scene where Oblonsky hosts a dinner party. At first Karenin declines because he has made up his mind and plans to divorce Anna. Once Oblonsky hears the news he is rather worried for his sister, but persuades Karenin to go anyway. While Karenin is there, he acts rather rude to the other guests due to the uncomfortable situation he put himself into. Later Karenin decides to proceed with the divorce, as he can no longer stand the fact of Anna being with Vronsky. During this argument Karenin tells Anna that he will take their son Seryozha “You don’t love him, leave me Seryozha”  (439). This quote represents the conflict of divorce and how the family’s structure is now split into two different pieces which will never connect again.       

Furthermore, throughout this novel Tolstoy portrays another example of family structure through his character Levin. Tolstoy depicts Levin as the person who is always trying to figure out the meaning of life. In Levin’s eyes, his example of life is always being by Kitty’s side. Tolstoy portrays one example of family structure when Levin is inspecting his hay reserves. During this scene Levin revisits his old thoughts and feelings about his past life. Levin reviews his conscience about his plans regarding his future life, and if he was ever going to settle down, get married, and have a family. In the end, Levin decides to leave all of his dreams in the past due the fact that he likes living a far simpler life. However, later during this scene all of his feelings would change as he saw a carriage come up over the hill. As it makes it way past him Levin mindlessly looks over at the carriage, catching a glimpse of something truly beautiful; “There were no eyes on earth like those” (331). Levin couldn’t be mistaken that those eyes belonged to the only person that he truly loved, and her name was Kitty. Tolstoy presents another example of family structure in the presence of Levin’s bachelor’s party. During this scene, Levin’s bachelors discuss the topic of marriage and whether or not Levin is ready to give up his freedom. Levin then responds to this conversation saying “it’s just this loss of freedom that makes me glad” (531). This quote symbolizes that he is happy to give up his freedom in order to start a life with Kitty. Tolstoy introduces another example of family structure when Levin cares for his brother Nicholas. Also at this time, Levin’s brother is very sick and close to death; “it’s not possible that this dreadful body is my brother Nicholas” (588). This quote represents the imagery of Levin’s disbelief at his brother’s appearance, as well as Levin’s willingness to help his brother in a dire situation. Levin however is disgusted by his brothers current state, so he fetches Kitty for some assistance. When Kitty arrives she immediately takes control of the situation and cares for Nicholas. Before this tragic event took place, Nicholas was an alcoholic who would do anything to get a drink in his hand. This situation relates to Russian culture due to the fact that they produce an immense amount of vodka, and enjoy it together.       

Lastly, another example of family structure is shown through the life of his character Vronsky. Tolstoy portrays one example of family structure during the scene where he remembers his childhood. As a child Vronsky really had no genuine family, so there was really no role model for him to follow. When he was young, Vronsky only had to follow the model of his mother, because he really didn’t even really know his father. This scene represents the idea of a “broken” family structure where he states that “Vronsky had never known what family was” (67). This quote foreshadows the idea of what can happen to a family after one piece of puzzle falls out of place. Tolstoy presents another example of family structure during the scene where Vronsky asks Kitty if she is going to the ball. In Russia attending a ball is a treasured tradition, as it represents a romantic aspect of Russian culture. Vronsky is very delighted with Kitty, as she has a pristine heart and was very attentive to him. However, later during this scene Vronsky figures out that he might be leading Kitty on into a relationship that he doesn’t see because “Marriage had never entered his mind as a possibility” (68). Finally, Tolstoy presents another example of family structure through the relationship of Vronsky and Anna. Vronsky first pursued Anna due to the fact he had no desire for a family, so in his his eyes she was the perfect woman for him. Later, Vronsky and Anna end up having an affair which leads to the birth of a child while Anna is already married.  Even after this incident, Vronsky still loves her as it states  “. . . the love that bound him was not a momentary impulse” (219). Allegorically, this quote represents the amount of trouble Vronsky was willing to go through in order to be Anna.

 In conclusion, all of these characters presented throughout the novel Anna Karenina are special in their own distinct personalities. By gaining an insight into the lives of these characters, it helps us to understand everyone has a different idea of what they call family. Maintaining a family is one of the most challenging tasks in life due to all the conflicts,successes, and failures each member of that family could face. As humans, we have a culture of making are own mistakes and learning from them. Through Tolstoy’s unique writing style we are able to capture a glimpse of what he is trying to portray. This picture is the vision of honesty between human beings. One example that supports this statement is in  scene where Anna sadly ends her life. She couldn’t control the everlasting guilt eating away at her eventually revealing her actions with Vronsky to her husband. If Anna had just been completely honest with Karenin, the outcome would’ve been far less severe. Tolstoy also presents his message that love is a very stong and powerful force, that can lead to pure happiness or result in aching heartbreak. This statement is shown in all of characters, and portrays that everybody is able to find love if they are willing to take a chance. Through his writing, Tolstoy intrigues the reader with the portrayl of his family life, along with the conflicts he faced during a time of political and societal change.


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