Trading Salvation for Personal Gratification in Anna Karenina
The epigraph of Anna Karenina: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," implies that judgment is a theological entitlement (Romans, 12:19). Tolstoy uses both social and moral issues to illustrate his characters' attitudes towards religion. For Oblonsky, Vronsky, and Karenin, religious values are secondary. Their lives are devoted to establishing a social position and monetary gain. Levin finds salvation and happiness because they learn to live for something beyond themselves and devote their lives to spreading the goodness of the Lord. Like Levin, Anna responds to her emotional instincts, but she is hindered by society's judgment. Anna distances herself from salvation by seeking only personal gratification in her love affair.
Oblonsky values his indulgent social life and his occupation above all else. He lies in direct contrast to Levin, who focuses not on the relentless pursuit of pleasure, but takes joy in his work and devotes himself to his loved ones. Stiva finds meaning in life only from his personal interactions, although he often ignores commitments to his wife and children. Religion is just another social institution, and he has no relationship with God: "Oblonsky could not bear standing through even a short church service without his feet hurting, and could not understand the point of all those terrible, highfalutin words about the other world when it would be very gay to live in this one too" (7).
Likewise, Vronsky is totally dedicated to his military career and his status as a high society player. He pursues Kitty with no intention of marrying her; he deserts her the moment he lays eyes on Anna. Vronsky seems ...
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...piness with the man she loves. She refuses to get a divorce because she does not want to compromise her son's future.
Her character deteriorates when her only goal in life is to keep Vronsky in love with her. Levin is saved when he learns to live for something beyond himself; Anna moves away from God when she focuses only on keeping the interest of her lover. She tells Dolly that she has no plans for more children because she fears that her pregnancy will make Vronsky disenchanted with her. Anna's self-assertion leads her to abandon "faith in God, in goodness as the sole purpose of mankind" and death is the only way for her to escape the world that she sees as full of hate (849). Her last words are, "Lord, forgive me for everything!" (816).
Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: The Modern Library, 1993).