Anna Karenina: The Impact Of Marriage on The Characters

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“Anna Karenina” is a novel written by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, originally published in 1877. Marriage and family are prevalent themes throughout the novel, “Anna Karenina”. In this novel, Tolstoy emphasizes the effect and the influence marriage has on multiple characters, with the exception of a few. In short, each of the characters are affected by marriage to a certain extent.

To begin with, Constantine Levin, one of the protagonists, goes through multiple changes due to his marriage. Levin is depicted as an individual that is not influenced by others and a socially awkward character who does not fall into the hierarchical classifications of the Russian Society. He considers himself a nonbeliever of God. He is raised by model loving parents which created a distorted image of married life in his head of it being “the ideal of all perfection’ (p.93). Moreover, he did not know his mother very well and after his mother and father passed away, he began idolizing the Shcherbatskys due to them being, in a sense, the perfect aristocrate family, which is the driving force of Levin’s obsession with Kitty Shcherbatskaya. Initially, Levin was rejected by Kitty due to the appearance of Vronsky. Nonetheless, once Levin finally marries Kitty, his picture of the “ideal of all perfection” married life he once dreamed of is shattered, and discovers that there are other turbulent troubles which come along with marriage. Levin and Kitty constantly argue and have major fallouts between themselves. However, after his wife gives birth to his son, he finally resolves to be a better man. Furthermore, at the end of the novel, after a tree nearly falls on top of his family, Levin truly understands how important his family is to him. Levin is greatly affected by his marriage with Kitty due to the fact that he gained the understanding of there being no perfect families which resulted in him growing as a person, and due to his in-laws demanding that he needs to take up their religion in order to marry Kitty, he became religious. Hence, he is striving to be a better man, and due to his marriage with Kitty he became religious.

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On the contrary, Stiva Oblonsky is depicted as a fixed and static character, not influenced by his marriage. Oblonsky is a charismatic, well-liked aristocrat who embodies the notion of living without a care and enjoying life to the fullest, not being held down by the duties that come along with marriage. Moreover, the novel begins within the chaotic Oblonsky household. He is caught cheating on his wife, Dolly, with his childrens’ governess. Although, he may seem deceitful due to him being unfaithful to his wife, he is more truthful with himself than anyone, “Stepan Arkadyevitch was a truthful man in his relations with himself. He was incapable of deceiving himself and persuading himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not at this date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children… “ (p.3). From this, the author gives the readers an insight on how Oblonsky views himself and his marriage with his wife. Furthermore, Oblonsky is the father of “five living and two dead children”. Albeit, him having two dead children, he is still not invested nor influenced by his marriage with Dolly. He continues to commit adultery and fools around with women similar to how he acted when he used to be a young bachelor.

Likewise, Dolly Shcherbatskaya is to a small extent not impacted by her marriage with Oblonsky. Dolly is a family oriented individual. She prioritizes her children over her own happiness due to the fact that she chose to stay with Stiva. Albeit, him having an affair with their governess, she decides to stay with Stiva for her children’s well-being. Moreover, she is grateful and does not forget to return a favour, especially to Anna due to the fact that Anna managed to convince Dolly to not abandon her family and stay with Stiva. Dolly even goes out of her way to vouch for Anna when she is in trouble with her own family: “No, wait! You mustn’t ruin her… I was married, and my husband deceived me…, I wanted to abandon everything, I myself wanted … But I came to my senses – and who saved me? Anna saved me. And so I live […] I forgave, and you must forgive!” (pp.388-389). This reveals how Dolly is able to repay her favours and how much she values the idea of family. Furthermore, she states that at that moment: “I came to my senses”, meaning that she was out of her senses for considering “to abandon everything”, and states that “Anna saved me”. She considers the idea of leaving Stiva for her own happiness is out of one’s senses and how she is “saved ” by Anna from ruining her family and striving for her own prosperity. Dolly has continued to be a selfless character who would do anything for her children all through her marriage.

Throughout her marriage with Stiva, she embraces her principles of prioritizing the children and does not change even under the tremendous stress Stiva has placed on her. She endures and overlooks Stiva’s actions such as the constant deception. At one point she even envies and admires Anna for her immoral love affair: “Weary of the monotony of a moral life, … she not only excused criminal love from a distance, she even envied it.” (p.621). Dolly is fed up with her monotone “moral life” and seeks the freedom Anna possessed when she left Karenin, her husband, for Vronsky. The author reveals the wavering of Dolly’s principles. However, her fantasies are quickly dismissed when Anna states her disinterest in having more children: “I won’t have any more children. I won’t, because I don’t want it.” (p.637). Instead of suffering through the pains of being pregnant with unfortunate children, Anna decides to stay a beautiful companion to Vronsky for as long as possible. Dolly is horrified by a seemingly simple solution to a complicated problem, and her admiration of Anna comes to an end. Dolly cannot imagine that her life would be better without any one of her children. (oprah). Dolly is not impacted by her marriage in a sense that her principles and personality did not change. Dolly still strives for the well-being of her children and does not take any actions, such as divorcing Stiva, to drastically change as a character.

It is important to keep in mind that several children are influenced by the marriage and divorce of their parents, particularly Serezha, the son of Karenin and Mitya, the son of Levin. Serezha previously grew up in a stable environment with a loving mother and father. However, after his mother commits adultery and seeks divorce, he is thrown into the adult world with no parents to guard him due to Anna leaving and Karenin being distraught at Anna’s betrayal. He is compelled to mature and is forced to grow up in a broken family. The unstable and broken family he is forced to grow up in has dramatically influenced his perception of the world and his personality. For instance, he became colder to people around him and considers marriage as not needed. On the other hand, Mitya is growing up in a loving family with both a mother and a father to aid him on his journey to adulthood. Furthermore, with the presence of both a mother and father, Mitya is able to experience the childhood, which Serezha and every child is meant to experience. The author uses these two characters to contrast the living conditions of children living in a stable family and an unstable family, and emphasizes the impact such environments have on children.

To conclude, Levin is affected by his marriage with Kitty to a large extent, he understands the flaws which come with marriage and accepts them. Therefore, growing as a character and him striving for the prosperity of his family allows him to strengthen his religious beliefs. On the other hand, Stiva is a stagnant character and does not change throughout his marriage with his wife. He acts similar to how he acted when he used to be not married, chasing women and constantly partying. In similar fashion, Dolly does not change. She follows her own principles and does not change due to her relationship with Stiva. Moreover, the author contrasts between Serezha and Mitya to express the impact a stable and unstable family has on children. Levin is induced to change due to his dependence on Kitty, while Stiva and Dolly have not changed throughout their marriage. 


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