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Tolstoi builds his novel on contrasts and comparisons, Anna and Kitty, Vronsky and Levin, Petersburg and Moscow and many more. By bringing his main characters into contact with one another he highlights them for us the reader. Choose one of the comparisons-contrasts and comment on who emerges in a more favorable light.

12 Responses to “Winners and losers in Anna Karenina.”

  1. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    The Unfaithful Ones

    While Tolstoy does provide multiple contrasting, and yet, somehow, not entirely dissimilar personalities, he also illustrates two disintegrating families, the Oblonskies and Karenins, both gradually falling apart after the adulterous affairs of one of the spouses. Both examples accentuate the weakness of the family not founded on mutual affection, in which the unfaithful ones seek escape from the love-less unions in their affairs. However, Anna gives into true, decadent passion, whereas Oblonsky simply seeks physical satisfaction with a fresh and attractive woman. He never experiences a genuine remorse, and does not treat his act of adultery as a big issue. Furthermore, he intended to keep the affair a secret from his wife. In such light, out of the two unfaithful ones, Karenina is certainly a more favorable one. The true ‘losers’ here, in my opinion, are the ‘institutions’ of marriage and family. Both of these unions were arranged and thus, false from the very beginning. And yet, both of these stories illuminate an eternal dilemma. What is the right way to live: to liberate ones truthful desires, with all their risky and thus fascinating consequences, in other words, to experience a short-term pleasant adventure, maybe even temporary, turbulent happiness? Or to reconcile to the fate chosen to you either by others, or yourself, out of respect or lack of courage, for the sake of unharmed, enduring stability?

  2. Ben Kingstone says:

    Tolstoy’s creation of Levin and Vronsky is particularly dynamic. When we first meet Levin, he is “in love, and therefore it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in all respects, a being so far above everything earthly” (22). When Tolstoy establishes Levin as a character he immediately captures our romantic sensibility. He also elevates the object of his characters affection–the young Kitty–to an angelic status: she is not an earthly being. Levin, moreover, is “such a simple man” that he hardly considers himself worthy of her attention; he is, after all, “not distinguished in any way” (23).

    Like Levin, Vronsky falls in love. But this fall into love resembles nothing like Levin’s humble, humbling relationship with Kitty Shcherbatsky. When Vronsky is more formally introduced to the reader, his character takes on a false quality. First, Tolstoy relegates him to the unknown: “he” (unlike most readers) “had never known family life” (56). Second, he becomes a representative–of “the ways of rich Petersburg military men” and “the coarse life of Petersburg” (56)–more than a living character. His relationship with Kitty, moreover, lacks mutual attraction. It was she who “had fallen in love with him” yet he leads her on with disingenuous words– “all sorts of nonsense” (57) one would say to an inexperienced lover.

    Clearly, Tolstoy wants readers to choose along moral lines. Since the beginning, those of us looking to support the character with the most integrity, honesty and awareness, not to mention depth, choose Levin.

  3. Laura Howard says:

    Anna and Kitty — two girls, two very different stories.

    When I first read Anna Karenina three and a half years ago, the one thing that I remembered from the book was that I did not like Anna Karenina. As a girl, I could not relate to her. A comparison with Kitty, provides some clear examples regarding the ways in which the girls contrast each other.

    Far apart in age, Kitty and Anna are two complete opposites. Anna is a mother who has endured childbirth, and thus known true pain. Rather than make her a compassionate person, however, this life experience has only made Anna manipulative. Kitty, the young, innocent, wide-eyed girl, has never known pain; she has never suffered. Yet she still manages to find it in her heart to be a truly compassionate person. This difference in the two women – Kitty’s compassion and Anna’s manipulation – is evident within the first 20 chapters. First, in chapter 15, Kitty is overcome with the image of poor Levin’ face after he leaves the Scherbatskys’. Kitty cannot help but feel enormously for Levin, his “kind eyes looking gloomily and dejectedly […].” While Kitty is sincere, Anna, on the other hand, is less concerned with people’s true feelings and more concerned with how to best manipulate everyone. When speaking with Dolly in chapter 19, while discussing Stiva’s transgressions, Anna tells Dolly what moved her most of all was “that he [Stiva] is tormented by two things […].” The narrator, however, is quick to point out that Anna is not telling what moved her; rather, “Anna guessed what would move Dolly most.” Though perhaps Anna’s actions have honorable intentions, the fact remains that she is a manipulator – a trait that will continue to manifest itself throughout the novel and lead to her eventual demise.

  4. Rouan Yao says:

    There are many intriguing character pairings in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Like many others before me, I felt that Konstantin Levin is an interesting character that creates a strong impression of other characters through contrast. However, despite the obvious competition between Levin and Vronsky in the first few chapters of the novel, I felt that the most salient and the most lasting contrast is between the friendly relations of Levin and Oblonsky.
    The two characters differ like night and day: while Oblonsky is eloquent and charming, Levin is awkward and bashful. Everybody who speaks with Oblonsky comes out with a good impression of him, although Levin even has trouble with his relationship with his peasants. Whereas Oblonsky is content to hold a comfortable life in society, Levin is independent and seeks solitude in the country, and has a disliking to (and sometimes even disregard for) the dance of society. The relationship between these two characters contributes little to the overall plot, and it seems the fondness between the two serve chiefly as a means to compare and contrast the societal man with the country man.
    I believe that Tolstoy makes it quite easy to decide who to favor between the two characters. Levin is bashful, but is the victim of an unfortunate choice of young Kitty. However, he manages to deal with the rejection with some manner of grace. In addition to this, he manages to find peace in the simplicity of the countryside and hard work.
    Oblonsky, on the other hand, did not work for his place in society. His job was secured by his connections, and is not hard to maintain. However, he is irresponsible with his marriage despite his happiness in love, and cheats on his wife.

  5. Kelsey says:

    Anna and Kitty, friends as they are, are starkly contrasted both when they are together in Moscow and when they separate after the ball. They share some similar characteristics of temperament and situation: they are both rendered unhappy by the situation their love puts them in, but not exactly by their love itself. They both acutely feel ashamed at the situation they are in, but Kitty grieves at her own mistake and wounding of her pride in loving a man who she was deceived in believing loved her back, while Anna cares little about what society thinks of her, but is ashamed of how her love could hurt her son. Both may grieve at that dead-end, unhappy situations they find themselves in, but Kitty is learning through Varenka and her father that after such an insult and wound, life might still go on; there may be things to care about and to laugh about, and a sense of dignity to recover. Anna, however, is trapped. She is married but loves someone else, and her well-known affair is crippling and consuming her. She loves her son, but only feels alive when she is with Vronsky, only believes love possible with him, and sees no happy future with her husband. She has cut off her husband from her life so he understands even less of her than before; on page 146, Alexei Alexandrovich discovers that his wife’s soul is closed to him. A few pages before, as he waits for her to come home, he tries to think about what she thinks and cannot do it: “For the first time he vividly pictured to himself her personal life, her thoughts, her wishes, and the thought that she could and should have her own particular life seemed so frightening to him that he hastened to drive it away.” This is the night that starts Anna’s deception of her husband, and she dislikes this deception, but suffers it to stay with her love. Kitty, also, dislikes deception, or as she calls it as she throws a temper tantrum at Varenka, “pretense.” She knows she can not be other than she is, but matures at the German baths to recognize that her Moscow slight need not be as dignity-shattering as she thought it would be. She says she will never get married, but she now has a better idea of what she wants out of love, and a better idea of some the pretense and artificial ideas of society. Anna, though, by the end of Part II, realizes more acutely how much she is trapped. She loves, knows this is what gives her life meaning and excitement, and disregards much of what society says about her. She knows what she does by cheating on her husband, and betraying her son, but she does it anyway. Love of Vronsky excites the lives of both Kitty and Anna, but while Kitty eventually gets over her hurt pride and heart and sees Vronsky for what he is, Anna’s love becomes the excitement and light of her life. Morally, what Anna has done is wrong, but both Kitty and Anna were leading fairly boring lives when Vronsky walked in. While Kitty recovers, Anna discovers both a love she has never known and how much she is trapped by society and her attachment to her son. Conclusion: I don’t believe either deserve to be harshly judged (at least without understanding).

  6. Melody Wang says:

    Vronsky, according to Oblonsky and most of other people, is perceived as one of the finest examples of the gilded youth of Petersburg, a and brilliant and charistmatic military man, who is also “terribly rich, handsome, big connections, an imperial aide-de-camp…well-born”
    Levin, on the other hand, is a thirty-two-year-old socially awkward landowner who does not have “any regular, defined activitiy or status in society….” Accodring to Shcherbatsky, she dislikes Levin’s “strange and sharp judgments,” as well as his “wild sort of life in the country, busy with cattle and muzhiks.” In fact, Levin is highly self-conscious of his humble and “dull” occupation as a landowner whose main preoccupations concern “breeding cows, shooting snipe, and building things”. He is aware that he is considered in society as “a giftless fellow who amounted to nothing and was doing, the very thing that good-for-nothing people do”( 23).
    Nevertheless, when Levin returns to his country home, he assumes a down-to-earth ease with which he dealts with all the farm affairs. For instance, when he discovers that one of his cows has calved, he is overwhelmed with a child-like joy. Hence, Levin is portrayed as a more practical and humble young man than that of the highly glamorized portrayal of Vronsky.
    In terms of their respective family values, Levin also emerges in a more favorable light.
    Vronsky has “never known family life,” and he lacks any form of geniune respect, love for his own mother. Levin, on the other hand, is imbued with a sacrasanct veneration towards his mother and all kinds of perfect family ideals. For example, in the “big, old’ house in which Levin lives in, it is his entire world because “it was the world in which [his parents] had lvied and diead. They had lived a life which for Levin seemed the ideal of all perfection and which he dreamed of renewing with his wife, with his family’(95). even though can barely remember his mother. His notion of her was a sacred memory, and his fture wife would have to be, in his imagainaton, the repetition of that lovely, sacred ideal of a woman which his mother was for him. For Levin, marriage was the chief concern of life for him, it is on which all happiness depended.”(95). Hence his desire to marry and his piety towards marriage and family are some of the most promising aspects of Levin’s characters.

  7. Emily de Koning says:

    Chapter XXIV, XXV Book 1

    This scene is the first during which we meet Nikolai and hence we learn much about him through Levin. He is described by his brother as a weak reached, man “Levin saw before him in the doorway the figure of his brother […] so striking in its wildness and sickliness, huge, thin stop-shoulders with big frightened eyes.” Undoubtedly our narrator portrays Nikolai as a pitiful character living in wild, frightened pain. He is a man that, as Levin says himself, is wrong externally but has a good misunderstood heart. Konstantin’s character is also revealed through his interaction with his brother Nikolai. The most distinct aspect o his character that is outlined in chapter XXIV Book 1 is his lack of confidence and resolution. As he plans his visit Levin tells himself “’I’ll tell him everything, I’ll make him tell everything and I’ll show him that I love him and therefore understand him.’” Yet, during his visit he succeeds in none of these goals the whole time he is timid, and embarrassed, never openly expressing his love and deliberately avoiding talking about Kitty’s refusal even when Nikolai mentions marriage openly. He also fails to listen to him, even though Nikolai tries explicitly to explain his reasoning to his brother.

    If I much choose the looser would obviously be Nikolai as the most obvious of wretched characters. But, honestly, at the end of this scene I was not sure exactly if I felt there was any true victor. Levin was very similar to his brother in that he had a good heart and good intentions that did not come though in his actions, Nikolai seemed simply to be a more extreme version of Levin. Nikolai appeared to have taken Levin’s convictions and pushed them too far, beyond the boundaries of what is sane or healthy.

  8. Alexandra Siega says:

    Like Brandt, I was most fascinated by the rivalry between Vronsky and Levin.

    In Vronsky we have a “mother’s dream”: a rich, handsome, sociable, and well-loved man. He is the charmer; he has the means and the skill to ensnare any woman he pleases. Tolstoy makes it clear that the young and beautiful Kitty is much yearned for in society, and therefore I feel that Vronksy saw Kitty as a challenge to take on, and a prize to enjoy. Interestingly, Tolstoy doesn’t include the subtext to Vronsky’s actions—the fact that Vronksy has no intention of marrying Kitty—until the reader has been sufficiently charmed by him.

    Levin, on the other hand, is certainly initially viewed as the underdog, and is clearly established as such during the initial scenes in which both Levin is and Vronsky seems to be a plausible suitor for Kitty. Levin doesn’t view Kitty as a prize. On the contrary, we understand that he truly loves her and seeks her companionship in a wholesome way. He is nervous around her, finds it difficult to comport himself within her presence, so much so that I actually cringed during the scene in the drawing room with Vronksy, Levin, Kitty, and others after Levin’s proposal to Kitty. Levin’s incredible awkwardness is felt in full swing during his time in Moscow, and this initial description of him, perhaps similar to Vronsky, define the character for me and is unforgettable, even if Levin seems to redeem himself at his country estate in his position of master and Vronsky becomes Anna’s lover instead of Kitty’s husband. Levin’s flaws make him a better man, for they provide him with a genuineness of emotion that was never present in Vronsky with Kitty. We see a genuine adoration from Vronsky towards Anna, though Vronsky’s emotions are vain and masochistic, but Levin’s love for Kitty is pure.

    I disagree with Brandt on a couple of points. One, perhaps because Vronsky is such a charming character, I don’t find him completely at fault for his actions; I feel that some of his actions were skewed to be much more malignant than intended. Two, (and perhaps as a result of number one) I don’t find major flaws in his character; I don’t instill in his actions a sense of guilt as much as the women of Anna Karenina do. Three, Vronsky certainly doesn’t live up to the reader’s initial expectation of a proposal to Kitty, but his actions afterwards are completely predictable. Vronsky (and Levin, for that matter) needs a woman to occupy his mind with, and the beautiful, kind, yet unattainable Anna is a perfect goal.

    While I most certainly root for Levin, is Vronksy really at fault for his actions? He led Kitty on, but it seems that his conscience is clear, perhaps suggesting that others looked into his actions more than he understood them. I say that Levin wins because he is a more realistic character, and one almost always roots for the adorable underdog. However, our notions of Vronsky may be severely skewed by the dominantly feminine outlook with which he is regarded. Though, of course, the rivalry between Vronsky and Karenin may put all of these kind words towards Vronsky to shame…

  9. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    As the novel progressed, I was particularly drawn into the contrasting lives of “rivals” Vronsky and Levin. Here we see two strapping men who are viewed differently by their peers and are subsequently portrayed in entirely different lights by Tolstoy. We are introduced to Levin as flawed and Vronsky as nearly perfect (sort of the archetypical male). Levin lacks a certain degree of social confidence as he is “agitated, hurried, a little uneasy…” but is naturally very good-hearted and well meaning. He does not toy with emotions and takes a very straightforward approach to living, hating formalities and basically, bullshit. Levin has difficulties with women and it becomes apparent from early on that he is trying to find himself. This is endearing to readers. On the other hand Vronsky is a beautiful person, athlete, with social charm, a high-ranking position, and the affections of women (“terribly rich, handsome, big connections, an imperial aide-de camp, and with all that – a very sweet, nice fellow”). Initially, this may be what readers wish they were. However, as we see the relationships between Vronsky and Kitty as well as Levin and Kitty, develop, it becomes clear that Vronsky has flaws even if he appears to be impeccable. And that Levin is plainly a very likeable guy. Simply put, Vronsky is a home-wrecker, as seen with how he treats Kitty and Anna. Even though he comes out looking superior to Levin and Karenin in that he gets his way in a seemingly effortless and kindhearted way, the way he handles (emotionally) and feels about the situation really violate “bro-code” and code on how to treat women who are infatuated with you (if one exists…have humility and don’t tease). In this way, I definitely think that Levin comes out in the more favorable light. This is really no surprise when you consider that Tolstoy may have modeled Levin after his own personality. Levin may have more flaws, but so does the average human (so his life throughout the novel exceeds expectations). Vronsky maintains a façade of the perfect man, but turns out to be far from it (thus, disappoints our expectations).

  10. Flora Weeks says:

    I’m going to choose a slightly different pair, in Anna and Varenka. This is not an obvious duo, as they are two very different women, but at some point in the novel, Kitty looks up to each of them. Anna and Varenka would probably each be offended upon hearing that she was being compared to the other. This is because they are both very proud, self-righteous women. Anna and Varenka both work hard, and live for what they want and believe is right, rather than living the life that society expects of them. Kitty sees a strong female figure in each of them; she sees their courage in standing out and living the life they want to live. In some ways, Kitty is then the loser in this trio, because although, she looks up to other women with this conviction, she is unable to be happy in a position other than the one that is expected of her, that of wife and mother. However, in the end Kitty realizes that she has what she wants and is happy with her family, meanwhile the other two are disappointed with where they end up. Anna and Varenka both fall in love with a man, who in turn is in love with them (Anna with Vronsky, and Varenka with Koznyshev), but their love is not returned in the way they had hoped. This leaves each of them alone and hopeless. It is then tempting to argue, that Anna ends up the winner, because she follows her romantic instinct rather than living the life of misery she knew was ahead of her.

  11. Romany Redman says:

    Konstantin Dmitrich Levin and Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev
    Levin is a kinetic learner. He works, moves, and interacts in a literally down-to-earth manner in order to explore his ideas and perspectives on philosophy, including the real questions of local politics, labour reform, land rights, etc. The connection for science and spiritual for Levin is organic and “accidentally empirical”, meaning he finds out through experience what views he holds.
    In contrast, Koznyshev explores questions in the abstract. He is impressive in his detail of rationality, carefully thought out and debated on the mental plane. Rational thought is key here. Koznyshev explicitly addresses the dichotomies and convergences of the spiritual and scientific with rhetoric and debate. In being so involved on the metaphysical level, Koznyshev abandons physical interaction.
    In their first meeting in the novel, Koznyshev continues a philosophical discussion with a professor (after a brief nod to his brother) about the distinction between physiological and psychological. After listening to their abstract reasoning, Levin asks the question: “Therefore, if my senses are destroyed, if my body dies, there can be no further existence?” The professor and Koznyshev pause and then continue the discussion, not conceding the point, yet rather with the response “We have no data”. This seems kind of out-of-touch with reality. Not that abstract thought is a bad thing, but it certainly presents as a foil to Levin who immerses himself in the farm and who sees through the hypocritical bureaucracy of initial zemstvo action in the country. Their continued interactions continue to paint the two approaches: commitment and sincerity vs. rational thought and interest for philosophy’s sake.

  12. Sarah Bellingham says:

    I will be looking at Anna and Kitty. These young women are examples of the wealthy Russian elite. They are both related to the Oblonsky family: Anna is Stiva’s sister and Kitty is Dolly’s sister. While Anna is older and married, Kitty is younger and unmarried. Anna dresses and speaks reservedly, but Kitty dresses extravagantly and strives to please. Both of these women begin the novel as upstanding society ladies. They are adored and pursued by the men who surround them. They begin the novel as quite similar women, but grow apart in their similarities and in their relationship over the course of the novel.

    It is difficult to say who emerges in the more favorable light. If one were to take a moralistic view of the novel, Kitty would be considered the better of the two. This is because Kitty becomes a victim and Anna becomes, in essence, a criminal. Kitty’s love life is destroyed when she turns down the man who loves her (Levin) for the man who had no interest in settling down with her (Vronsky). She is devastated, and her distress manifests itself in physical symptoms. Kitty emulates Varenka, a girl at the spa who she sees as saintly, and attempts to do charitable work. Even this self-sacrifice, however, turns out for the worse. On the other hand, Anna begins as a respectable married woman. After Vronsky’s flattery and courtship, she cheats on her husband with the young man. Her affair is not discreet enough to hide from society’s prying eyes, and her reputation crashes. Toward the end of Part II, she announces to Vronsky that she is pregnant.

    If one were to take a more romantic view of the novel, however, one might see Anna in the more favorable light. Anna puts everything on the line when she enters into an affair with Vronsky. This is a true show of passion and romance, if not love. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, she looks to her lover for fulfillment. She is a romantic heroine. Through this lens, we see Kitty as a person who gives up love to improve her position in society. Her plan fails and regret follows. Both of the women make selfish moves that hurt others in order to make themselves happy—but Anna’s was based off of love while Kitty’s was based off of a social position.

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