Regaining Control in Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina features significant clusters of scenes, all of which describe notable moments in the development of the novel's major figures. One of the most important clusters is when Anna travels to see Vronsky. On her way her perceptions change; she throws her "searchlight" upon herself. Arriving at the next station she sees the rails and knows what must be done.
Anna has had control over her own life taken away from her, due to the societal limitations on her choices as a woman. She becomes resentful of the society she lives in, and turns that frustration on the unsympathetic Vronsky, who retains his own freedom as well as control over her own happiness. She is too proud and passionate to live in subordination, as Dolly Oblonsky does. Anna cannot conceive of going on indefinitely as she has been, and at the same time can take no pleasure from contemplation of her past, or her future, which holds no prospect of change. Feeling trapped and untrue to her own unwanted desires, she begins to see the entire world as a wretched place populated by miserable, entrapped individuals just like herself. Through death alone, she feels she can secure a place in Vronsky's heart. Death is also the only decision that she is free to carry out on her own.
The place that Anna occupies is like that of a child, making up tasks for herself to fill the time, while others make the decisions that affect her life. Anna tries to interest herself with educating the English girl, writing a children's book, but these are all distractions from the fact that she has nowhere to go. Oblonsky and Karenin meet to try to settle the question of Anna's future, without inviting Anna to plead for herself or otherwise a...
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...bout whether or not the maidservant will remember to put clean sheets on the guests' beds. But neither of these women's roles are true to her own desires. To stay on this earth is to place control of her life in the hands of a man whom she is not certain loves her. Anna's decision is incomprehensible to Madame Vronsky: "Can you understand these desperate passions?" (812). But from our view of Anna's mental landscape, we can understand them all too well.
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Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Trans. Joel Carmichael. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1960.