Themes of Life and Death in Anna Karenina
The novel, Anna Karenina, parallels its heroine's, Anna Karenina, moral and social conflicts with Constantin Levin's internal struggle to find the meaning of life. There are many other underlying themes which links the novel as a whole, yet many critics at the time only looked upon its critical view of Russian life. Henry James called Tolstoy's novels as "loose and baggy monsters' of stylessness, but Tolstoy stated of Anna Karenina ".....I am very proud of its architecture--its vaults are joined so that one cannot even notice where the keystone is." That is absolutely correct, because within Anna Karenina, there exists many themes that are all ...view middle of the document...
While on the other hand, Vronsky takes on the role of Karenin, he is unable to deal with Anna's deathbed crisis and even goes as far as attempting to suicide. This awareness of life-in-death provides the climax of the novel, with the main characters perceiving the truth from the heights of their emotional intensity. Hate and deceit no longer exist in the presence of death, and the three characters live in a moment of pure innocence.
Yet as the crisis ends, and everything returns to normality, Anna, Vronsky and Karenin return to their old ways to live in that world of delusion. Anna and Vronsky continues with their ill-fated love, while Karenin despite his ennoblement, finds Anna cannot love him and reverts back to his old ways. This clearly shows that death brings about the ultimate truth of life and the world of the living is just a delusion.
Death in the novel is personified by Levin's brother, the all-too-intimate Nikolai, whose lingering, hastly death pushes Levin to make the leap of faith. This the leap of faith which the other characters had experienced, but were unable to retain after their dramatic experience with death. Levin is unlike them, and is in fact, able to discover for himself the meaning of life in the world and retain his leap of faith. For Levin in the end, he is no longer afraid of death and even though he does not completely change, he now knows the meaning of life and is at peace.
Levin's example here provides for the reader an insight into Tolstoy's intertwining and complex structure in Anna Karenina. The reader is able to better understand how the role of death is critical to the novel. Levin serves as the backbone for Tolstoy's emphasis on the "natural life" where one loves and procreates, as opposed to the "unnatural life" where one lives by abstract principles. The natural man, according to Tolstoy, grasps life through all its realities and can then understan death. Intellect and spirit merely bypass essential truths.
While in the world of the living, Tolstoy shows the reader the delusions of life through various haracters. Especially apparent is the princess Betsy Tverskoy who is so caught up in her daily life and is unable to change. She throws extravagant dinner parties for that part of society which feasts on delusions. The irony behind it is that they, despite their disillusionment, mocks Anna at one of the parties where she had shown up with her lover, Vronsky. This is in essence the downfall of Anna, who has succumbed to passion for her lover.
The themes of life and death will come to review itself in the novel. As for Anna, she embodies the both of them even thought she didn't know it. In the end as Anna traces the career which drives her to suicide in her long soliloquy, she discovers that her love had turned to hate, that her life has become a "stupid delusion" and death provides the only alternative. Anna now accepts...