By Iris W., 8th Grade
The classical novel Anna Karenina explores love, religion, and politics, with the overarching question of life’s meaning. The author Leo Tolstoy describes the life of Anna, a wealthy noble in Imperial Russia, who finds herself wanting love, which she does not hold for her cold hearted husband. When she meets Vronsky, Anna experiences inner conflict over whether to follow her passions or continue with her conventional life. Anna sacrifices her old life for a new, promising one, until the only one she is living for in her new one is Vronsky. Although Anna follows her passion, she becomes trapped in a position that makes her miserable, which challenges the common belief that following one’s passions will always lead to a happy life.
As a result of losing her son and acceptance in society, Anna has no choice but to cling to Vronsky. After Anna leaves her husband, she is forbidden from seeing her son again. Out of desperation, she decides to visit him one last time. “On the bed a boy sat upright in nothing but an unbuttoned shirt, his little body arched, stretching and finishing a yawn. As his lips came together, they formed themselves into a blissfully sleepy smile and with that smile he slowly and sweetly fell back again” (Tolstoy 533). Anna’s perception of her son waking up is one filled with love which is portrayed through her beautiful details of his description. She feels an unconditional love towards him and when comparing him to her new life, her new position with Vronsky seems dull and lackluster. This one moment is in stark contrast to her current way of living; it’s childish and innocent and pure. Anna is her best self, without anxieties and fear, around her son. She tries to reassure herself that she hasn’t lost all when she attends the theatre. Unfortunately, a society lady humiliates Anna by refusing to sit next to her. “‘You, you’re to blame for it all!’ she cried [at Vronsky], getting up, with tears of despair and anger in her voice.’ Vronsky replies, ‘I asked you, I implored you to not go. I knew it would be unpleasant…’ ‘Unpleasant!’ she cried. ‘Terrible! I won’t forget it as long as I live. She said it was a disgrace to sit next to me’”… Anna later goes on. “‘Yes, if you loved as I do…’ she said, looking at him with an expression of fear” (Tolstoy 549). Vronsky is not fulfilling her needs and drives her to seek society life. This does not work out because Anna is no longer accepted in society; others regard her as a fallen woman. She feels as if she is more invested in their relationship, but can’t help clinging onto Vronsky. Anna is more dependent on him than ever before because both remnants of her old life, Seryozha and society, are now out of reach.
During her extended time with Vronsky, Anna still unconsciously perceives him as a stranger and regards herself as one as well. Anna becomes obsessed with what she believes to be her very last attribute. Becoming soulless and uninterested, Anna is nearly at the last straw in her relationship. After a yet another fight, she looks at herself in the mirror. “She did not even believe her hand and went to the pier-glass to see whether her hair had indeed been done or not… ‘Who is that?’ she thought, looking in the mirror at the inflamed face with strangely shining eyes fearfully looking at her. ‘Ah it’s me,’ she realized, and looking herself all over, she suddenly felt his kisses on her and, shuddering, moved her shoulders. Then she raised her hand to her lips and kissed it” (Tolstoy 755). Although Anna has known Vronsky for several years, she still panics at the thought of physical contact with him, as if their relationship wasn’t established. Furthermore, as a result of her anger at Vronsky, Anna is trapped in the memories of their arguments. She believes her only appeal is beauty, which she thinks is necessary to maintain a relationship with Vronsky. Anna’s looking at an image of herself that actually isn’t her to reassure herself of her attractiveness. Having lost the spark of gentleness and honesty that was once in her, she can’t recognize herself when she is filled with anxiety and bitterness.
Near the end of her life, Anna becomes trapped in a despairing and bitter mindset. As she goes through her daily life, she projects her miseries upon others; “‘ We all want something sweet, tasty. If not candy, then dirty ice cream. And Kitty’s the same: if not Vronsky, then Levin. And she envies me. And hates me. We all hate each other. I Kitty, Kitty me. That’s the truth” (Tolstoy 760). Her crisis destroys all hope and everything good inside her. Anna’s mood reflects upon her life, so that when she looks upon the world all she can see reflected back at her is her own torment. Despite the lack of happiness in her own life, others still entertain the feeling, yet Anna thinks the worst of people, when really, the only one she thinks the worst of is herself. This truly shows how Anna is stuck in her own mindset and mood and cannot escape.
Anna loses what is actually dear to her in exchange for something that turns out to be superficial. To be with Vronsky, she sacrifices her son, her position in society, but most importantly, her goodness and kindness. Vronsky appears to be attractive, charming, and wealthy, but in reality he’s never there for her and is the main cause of her despair. As a result, Anna is stripped of everything, and there’s no place for her to go. Anna’s story suggests that following one’s heart may not correspond with one’s best interests. To be fair though, Anna’s heart was divided between her love for her lover and for her son. And that, perhaps, is the most difficult situation because either way she loses.