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Tolstoi gets into everyone’s mind, even Laska’s-the dog. Yet each sees the world and events in a different light. Tolstoi sees the irony, hypocrisy, and superficiality of conventions-societal, religious, legal. He also employs a technique called “defamiliarization” in which a common occurrence is presented from a unique perspective so that we the readers can experience the old and familiar in a refreshingly new way.  What have you learned from Books 5 and 6?

11 Responses to “It’s a dog’s world.”

  1. Laura Howard says:

    I’ve often wondered about this – the fact that Anna Karenina is essentially a book about someone sleeping with someone else (though, blah blah blah, it is also about a lot of other things too, like Kitty’s and Levin’s romance and Levin’s search for himself…). But back to the main point – Anna and Vronsky. Isn’t that what many episodes of Days of Our Lives are about? How can one author take something so ordinary – an affair – and make it into a 700-page novel that people never seem to stop talking about? How can an affair be considered “Classic Literature”?
    A while back, I had a professor who described Gone with the Wind as “crap literature.” I was appalled and confused at his opinion. Gone with the Wind, the book that had inspired a spectacular 4-hour movie, that made “Rhett and Scarlett” household names and has continued to inspire Americans for years hence? Why, I wanted to know, was something like Gone with the Wind “crap literature,” and a book like Anna Karenina, with essentially the same main character – a fallen woman – not? Granted, I only made it through the first couple of pages of Gone with the Wind, because I had already seen the movie and the scenes and the characters were already well-formed in my mind. In all honesty, I was bored. But that doesn’t make the book “crap literature.”
    Rather, what sets Anna Karenina, and other “classic” books apart is the fact that the author has included in his “defamiliarization” a mass of philosophy. So, not only does Levin get married – a very familiar occurrence – but he philosophizes about it. The same is true for Karenin going about his daily life in a pitiful manner. The author delves into WHY the characters do the things they do, whereas in a book like Gone with the Wind, the characters simply do. Thus, the “defamiliarization” is based around the act of explaining human nature to us. The only problem with Anna Karenina is that, in my opinion, human nature as it applies to Anna never seems to fully make sense. For instance, I find that even in part V, when Anna visits her son, I am never quite sure of the nature of Anna’s feelings toward her son. I realize, however, that it is partly due to my age that I have the inability to fully grasp some of the concepts of human nature which Tolstoi, in his more advanced age, saw very clearly.

  2. Ben Kingstone says:

    I like the way in which Tolstoy uses comparisons to defamiliarize the reader with routine life. He uses similes and metaphors to compare marriage to something else we can imagine doing if we haven’t experience marriage yet. Marriage then becomes something both recognizable and unfamiliar–as if it exists somewhere it shouldn’t or has been misplaced; this is the power of Tolsoy’s defamiliarization.

    Levin has been married for three months: “He was happy, but having entered upon family life, he saw at every step that it was not what he had imagined” (479). This phrase immediately catches the readers attention; how could this marriage be different from Levin’s conception of marriage? Tolstoy changes our own conception of the ordinary. “At every step he felt like a man who, having admired a little boat going smoothly and happily on a lake, then got into the boat. He saw that it was not enough to sit straight without rocking; he also had to keep in mind, not forgetting a minute, where he was going, that there was water underneath, that he had to row and his unaccustomed hands hurt, that it was easy only to look at, but doing it, while very joyful, was also very difficult” (480). This poetic description neatly illustrates the process of defamiliarization. Tolstoy makes an unexpected comparison between marriage and rowing a boat, and to the unexpected callouses that develop on your hands as they face the adversity of rowing the boat of marriage.

    The most important thing I learned in this section is about writing. Tolstoy’s greatest contribution to literature lies in his attention to language; enjoyment of the reading experience comes from his creative illustrations that take the ordinary and twist it. These descriptions also create the depth of character that we can appreciate as readers.

  3. Juan Machado says:

    I think Tolstoi’s narrative is often like a spinning wheel in which different characters are matched with one another, until they have all encountered each other. This is one of the ways in which Tolstoi “defamiliarizes” the reader: we get to see each character under different circumstances and in the eyes of several characters.

    This feeling of defamiliarization occurs whenever the focus of the narrative changes suddenly. In the beginning of Part VI, for example, Tolstoi all of the sudden interrupts the narrative of Levin’s and Anna’s affairs and devotes several pages to the courtship of two relatively minor characters, Sergei and Varenka. This comes seemingly out of nowhere, but I think the reader is supposed to contrast the situation Levin and Anna find themselves in to the relationship between Sergei and Varenka and to see it with “new eyes.”

  4. Melody Wang says:

    One example of defamiliarization in the beginning of Part V is on the day of Levin and Kitty’s wedding, every one is in place — except for the groom Levin. “The bridegroom was expected at the church and here he was, like an animal locked in a cage, pacing the room, poking his head out to the corridor and recalling with horror and despair that he had said to Kitty and what she might be thinking now.”(Part 5 III) Such moment certainly complicates the tension at the wedding scene and it also subverts the tradition evocation of wedding which is all about the bride, and the groom is often left in the background. Levin’s late arrival and his clumsy performance during the ceremony are all examples at which Tolstoy foregrounds the groom in the scene. For another instance, “when Levin just could not understand what was required of him … For a long time they kept correcting him and were about to give it up- because he kept either taking the wrong hand or taking it with the wrong hand-when he finally understood that he had to take her right hand with his own right hand without changing position.”(451) The portrayal of Levin’s humiliating awkwardness at his own wedding is an especially compelling in the sense that it is a refreshing way of evoking an uniquely romantic wedding scene.

  5. Romany Redman says:

    I found the theme of Anna’s portrait especially interesting. Although not personified directly, the portrait by the artist Mikhailov takes on its own role in this part of the novel.
    Tolstoy defamiliarizes first the artist. We witness Mikhailov’s thoughts about his paintings and his portrait models. More than that, we see his opinions about other Russians living in Europe: why they are there and what they represent, in this case Vronsky and Anna. His art work is interpreted, yet Tolstoy allows us to listen in on his responses to their comments on the face of Jesus or the two boys fishing. The depth of this section is a little too much for me to comprehend. Perceptions of Christlike suffering and humility (almost echoing the themes surrounding Anna in this part of the book) contrast with the innocent nonchalance of growing and developing at your own pace. This reflects the status of Vronsky and Anna’s relationship both in the eyes of society and in their own eyes.
    Later, when Anna’s portrait is being made, Mikhailov’s professionalism contrasts Vronsky’s own attempts at painting and portraits. Vronsky sticks to medieval themes, unable to confront reality.
    There is more to be said about Mikhailov and his central role as a thermometer of the mood….but on to the portrait itself. Later, the expression of the portrait as described by Levin induces recollection of Mikhailov’s painting of Christ. The “snap shot” allows Levin to see the striking character of Anna and the humanity of her struggle, while meeting her in person lets him have a glimpse at her self-respect.

  6. Sarah Bellingham says:

    By bringing us into everyone’s mind, Tolstoi shows us that the only way to survive in this world is to let go of our overanalyzing, self-important ideas and embrace life. We learn from Books 5 and 6 that over-thinking leads to distress and worry, while trusting our intuition and acting is the path to happiness. Follow your heart, not your head, Tolstoy seems to say in these books. With this Tolstoyan ideology in mind, let us look at how this concept applies to the characters of Anna Karenina.

    To begin with, Karenin seems to live the most practical life out of all the characters in this novel. He is, quite arguably, too practical. Karenin’s motto is “when in doubt, don’t,” which speaks to the careful calculations that monitor each of his actions (507). He treats his son as an “imaginary boy,” (525). In doing so, he distances himself from Seryozha and loses a measure of his son’s love and respect. His lack of passion could potentially be seen as the reason for which he lost his wife. Karenin plans out his life too carefully, making him unable to understand the importance of—or perhaps, simply to perform—emotional connections necessary in human interaction. In other words, Karenin is responsible for his own misery because he chooses reason over emotion.

    Anna struggles between the pulls of passion and those of reason. Whenever she lives in the moment, she finds herself “unforgivably happy,” (613). However, when she thinks about her current situation, she “can’t fall asleep without morphine,” as she tells Dolly (640). Here, we see another example of an individual who is miserable because of their over-thinking things. Anna, unlike Karenin, is able to separate herself and follow passion. Because of this, she is living with her lover on a beautiful estate.

    This was what I “learned” from Books 5 and 6.

  7. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    I found that Tolstoy’s “defamiliarization” was best exemplified in Levin’s mowing scene… (who knew such a boring activity could be romanticized in such a way that I would completely connect with it and felt the urge to go outside and do manly things…) but since that was not in this section, I will choose my second favorite example…

    Levin’s confession at the beginning of Part 5.

    Just like Professor Beyer alluded to, this would be a case of the superficial societal conventions. It hardly occurs to Levin that if he is going to marry Kitty he should go to a priest to confess, but Stepan Arkadyich makes it quite clear that he must do so (“you can’t go to the altar without it – pg. 438). This requisite by society for confession even for those without faith is the irony of the situation – as Levin must decide whether to approach the situation as of great religious importance (and kid himself) or of utter meaninglessness (which he “could not do either” – page 439). Regardless, even though he he decides to be honest and announces firmly does not believe in God, the chapter ends with him realizing that what the priest said “was not at all as stupid as it had seemed to him at first, and that there was something in it that needed to be grasped.” Essentially, at the same time that Tolstoy introduces the irony and superficiality of the church as an INSTITUTION, he openly wonders whether the IDEAS of the church do have some inherent meaning.

    Throughout 5 and 6 we learn many things, a few that come to mind are…

    Affairs have problems. Forever. Marriages too have inevitable problems.
    (Life for that matter may always have its problems even if you get what the big things you want) Leading me to say…
    The grass may be greener, but it could soon turn brown when you get there.
    Also, Tolstoy clearly had his own demons when it came to religion.
    A slow death is often just as painful for those watching as those enduring.

  8. Rouan Yao says:

    Like Bryanna, I think one of the best examples of Tolstoy’s use of “defamiliarization” is at the beginning of this last section, when he compares how far Dolly and Anna have gone in their respective relationships. For example, Tolstoy introduces Anna as an elevated character who has lots of dignity and respect. The first half of the novel is entirely based on Anna’s respectability, with Tolstoy bringing her in to repair the damages done by Stiva to the Oblonsky household. Throughout the first part of the novel, you also See Anna interacting with people of tremee beginning of the book, found a role model in Anna and her grace in society. This, however, changes drastically at the end of the novel, when Anna, who has been a mother-figure is shown apart from her son and not caring about her daughter. The stark contrast confounds the readers and forces them to reevaluate their previous judgments on the characters.

    What’s also really interesting is Levin’s wedding with Kitty. Before and during the wedding, Levin’s behavior sheds light to the dubiousness of an extremely old tradition. For example, he goes to church to make confessions not for any reason of clearing his soul and his conscience, but because it is a tradition that is necessary to do before marriage. A Russian audience would undoubtedly be “defamiliariazed” with the idea of religion after Tolstoy’s description of the wedding, just from the less-than-reverential (but probably accurate to many Russians) approach to the ceremony. For example, Levin, instead of finding some deep spiritual mood to dwell in, only tries really hard to get in the mood, and once he fails, resigns to focusing on the smaller, mundane details of the wedding, letting his mind wander.

  9. Anna Mackey says:

    What I am going to focus on is how Tolstoy defamiliarizes institutional religion and romantic relationships in books 5 and 6. In Book 5, Levin is shown struggling with his views about God and taking confession. Tolstoy writes of Levin questioning the existence of God and lacking any of the strong religious feelings he felt when younger. Yet Levin still maintains some reservations about denouncing God completely, therefore “being unable either to believe in the meaningfulness of what he was doing or to look at it indifferently as at an empty formality, he experienced…a feeling of awkwardness and shame.” (439) By uncovering these feelings through the experience of a once necessary marital ritual, Tolstoy is guiding the reader to question the real meaning of marital customs, religion, and marriage itself. Levin is forced to perform a ritual he does not believe in, yet he does it anyway, proving its very hollowness. However, just because he does not believe in these institutional religious beliefs and customs, does not mean Levin is not a spiritual or soulful person. We see throughout the novel that the way Levin reacts to nature, to love, and to marriage is extremely spiritual, even transcendental. So the problem here does not lie in the fact that Levin is incapable of spiritual feeling, but that religious feeling has been constructed into specific, necessary social rituals, that in reality do not even require religious feeling in order to be completed. Through this defamiliarization, the reader must question how religion is constructed by society, and question the accompanying routine rituals.

    Now, I’ve mostly run out of room to further discuss the Kitty/Levin and Anna/Vronsky relationships in these books, but I will put something out there quickly. In these two books, the juxtaposition of K/L and A/V forces the reader to look beyond social stigma, and examine the inner workings of all romantic relationships. By showing that both couples’ desires are satisfied, but that they are not fully content, Tolstoy devalues Anna’s social transgression, and shows that even in relationships consummated within societal convention, happiness is not guaranteed, and consequently Anna and Vronksy’s relationship cannot be failing simply because of that transgression.

    Therefore, the 2 lessons I took from Books 5 and 6 were: you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual, and one must look beyond social rules to examine the inner workings of romantic relationships.

  10. Alexandra Siega says:

    Bry pretty thoroughly explained my thoughts on Anna and defamiliarization, so instead I will answer the question: What have you learned in Books 5 and 6?

    I was happiest while gaining more insight into Dolly’s mind in Part 6. We have already stereotyped her as the “mother” figure in the text, which at first I found odd. Dolly obviously devotes her life to her children, however her attitude towards them is less than motherly in the positive sense. She may ensure that their basic needs are met and worry about them an appropriate amount, but she views her responsibilities of motherhood as a burden, not a joy. I asked myself repeatedly through discussion and reading: how can the central mother figure dislike being a mother so much? What does this say about Tolstoy as an author, a father, and a man?

    Tolstoy was generous to give us further insight into Dolly’s mind when Dolly goes to visit Anna. She says, “At home, busy with the children, she never had time to think. But now…all the previously repressed thoughts suddenly came crowding into her head, and she thought about the whole of her life as never before, and from all different sides.” (606) How exciting it would be if she actually did that… for immediately after this declaration she launches into a discourse about children, and cannot stop fixating on her children. We do learn more about her as a mother, however. We discover the source of her pain in her role, and the toll that being a mother has taken on her spirit and her body. I was most interested in Dolly’s contemplation of death, especially how it affects her almost impulsively, and certainly physically.

    Tolstoy presents Dolly’s inescapable position of motherhood as a painful deterioration of the woman from the feminine apex of an Anna-like figure. However, though Dolly clearly laments her position, I believe that she could not imagine herself any other way, as made clear by her repulsion to the young peasant woman’s relieved and carefree statement concerning her daughter’s death.

  11. Bryanna Kleber says:

    If there were ever a poster child character for “defamiliarization” in this novel, it would be Anna. Upon Anna and Vrosky’s flee from the city, her life changes drastically, and we witness the unraveling of a character we have become familiar with and the building of a brand new character.

    Foremost, when Anna returns to St. Petersburg, she is not received the way she previously was and the way she had grown acquainted to. She is now rejected from society and even mere association with her could result in social suicide. A woman who was once looked up to, idolized, and sought after has become poison to society. Anna’s main role in the beginning of the novel was being a wife, mother and socialite. She loved children and children loved her. Now, she has distanced herself from her son and begins to realize that she doesn’t like her daughter as much.

    Dolly’s visit really brings to light many of the changes that Anna has undergone since the beginning of the novel and also shows another character, Dolly, changing shape. Previously, Dolly was somewhat envious of Anna’s life and Anna was stable while Dolly was falling apart. Now, Anna’s life seems out of control to Dolly and she looks upon it with a sort of repulsion, although the freedom seems appealing to Dolly. Immediately, we see Dolly’s shock when she comes across Anna riding a horse. Dolly is flabbergasted and doesn’t know quite how to react because it is so wrong for woman to be riding horseback. And when she meets Anna’s daughter, she is surprised at how the daughter has not been raised with the same care and standards that Anna raised her son with. And Dolly does not approve when the group is playing in the lawn because she finds it too childish. Dolly’s visit makes her take a new, appreciative look upon her life, whereas before she thought it to be miserable.

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