Essay about Views on Marriage and Divorce in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

Essay about Views on Marriage and Divorce in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

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Marriage and family are prevailing themes in the major works of Tolstoy. In War & Peace the marriage of Pierre to Hélène is later contrasted with that of Pierre's later marriage with Natasha (among others) and in Anna Karenina, the novel is in some ways two separate stories of two separate marriages. On one hand is the union between Levin and Kitty and on the other is Anna Arkádyevna and Alexéy Karenin. One is a marriage coming together, while the other is one breaking apart. Based on the characterization of the players involved, coupled with parallels to Tolstoy's own life it is possible to discern his philosophy towards marriage and therefore why each character's fate was chosen at the outset.

Although there are two main marriages in the novel, other marriages undergo scrutiny as well. The first character we are introduced to is Stiva Oblonsky, a government clerk portrayed as a likeable character who is also at odds with his wife due to an act of infidelity with their French governess (part I, chapter 1, pg. 1). His wife, Dolly, wishes to leave him as she can not stand to live with a man who has defamed their love, especially with someone under their own roof. At the same time, Levin has come from the country in order to ask for the hand of Kitty, Dolly's sister. Shortly after arriving in town, Levin and Oblonsky had a talk in which Oblonsky's philosophy towards marriage was expounded on: "'a woman, a dear, gentle affectionate creature, poor and lonely, sacrifices everything. Now when the thing is done...just consider, should one forsake her? Granted that one ought to part with her as not to destroy family life, but oughtn't one to pity her and provide for her and make things easier?'" (part I, chapter 11, pgs. 37-38). His op...


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...en Anna can no longer quell her jealousy and throws herself beneath the train, she has come full circle. Her end occurs in a similar place to where her fall began. There was no other moral way out for Anna in the Tolstoyan view. She had already ruined the sanctity of marriage, and in fact had conceived a child not of her own husband while still married to him. His view called for her to obey, but she instead gave way to lust. Going back to her husband would not have undone the damage done to him, and whether or not he was made to appear ridiculous at the close of the novel does not change her transgression. Vengeance was God's, and he did repay.




Works Cited

Maude, Aylmer. "The Life of Tolstoy" Oxford University Press (July 16, 1987)

Tolstoy, Leo. "Anna Karenina." Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator) Penguin Classics, 2004.

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