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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is, in many aspects, a story of love and relationships. Two couples, Kitty and Levin, and Anna and Vronsky, find some form of love and passion throughout the course of the novel, yet their personalities determine the success of their relationships. In Part VI of the novel, the two couples are both spending the summer in their country estates, and their behaviors in and reactions to parallel circumstances reflect the ultimate fates of their romances. Kitty and Levin are able to have a more secure and emotionally fulfilling relationship than Anna and Vronsky because they understand each other and because, despite this, each has genuine preoccupations of his or her own.
The contrasting manners in which Kitty and Anna treat their domestic roles reflect the stability of their respective relationships. At a gathering of the women in the family on the balcony, Kitty is “introducing [a] new way” of making jam, “which [was] employed in her old home,” (502) to Agatha Mikhaylovna, who had run Levin’s household before his marriage. Kitty, upon moving into Levin’s home, has almost immediately concerned herself with the running of the household and taken over Agatha’s job. Though the scene in which they make jam according to Kitty’s instructions humorously mocks the seriousness with which the women take household chores, as seen in the mention of “Agatha Mikhaylovna’s wrath” (502) should the jam turn out poorly, it also portrays the mild friction that is inevitable with a sudden addition to a family and the management of a household changing hands. Therefore, small conflicts like this mark Kitty’s integration into her domestic role as Levin’s wife. She makes Levin’s home hers by bringing practices from her “old home,” (502) and thus establishes a permanence in their relationship that Anna and Vroknsky’s relationship lacks.
During Dolly’s visit to Vozdvizhensk, she concludes that the running of Vronsky’s household “had all been done by, and depended on, the master’s care” (570-571). While Levin keeps himself informed of his household, such as inquiring about the jam, he seemed content to leave the decisions to Kitty. Vronsky, on the other hand, seems to have always run his household, and the arrival of Anna into his life did not change this fact. Indeed, Dolly observes that, “Anna, Sviyazhsky, the Princess, and Veslovsky were all equally guests” (571) in Vronsky’s house. Anna’s status, therefore, is not that of a wife, but of a lover on whom nothing and no one in Vronsky’s house depended except Vronsky himself. The only reason Anna can call this house home is Vronsky’s love for her. Indeed, she has convinced herself that she loves only her son and Vronsky, and that, if they are both in her life, she shall need no other human interaction. Unlike Kitty, who attaches herself to Levin’s house and makes it her home in all aspects, including having her mother and sister present, Anna has nothing tangible around her in which to ground herself and to make her feel that she belongs. Therefore, Kitty is more confident in her love and relationship than Anna is because her place in the world is not based solely upon one man’s emotions any longer. Conversely, because Kitty feels more confident in Levin’s love for her, she is able to settle into his house and make her presence permanent, while Anna, fearing that Vronsky will cease to love her, continues to feel like a guest.
While both Kitty and Levin have tasks and thoughts with which to occupy themselves in each other’s absence, Anna does everything in her life with Vronsky in mind, contributing to her obsessive relationship with him. At one point, Kitty is focusing all of her energy on making a couple of Varenka and Koznyshev, and Levin is concerned with his new wagons. Their off-handed exchange about where they will be that afternoon exemplifies their casual interactions when both are occupied with matters of their own concern. They both understand their ability to go about their daily lives, apart and involved in their own thoughts, and still be a loving couple. In addition, they mostly interact freely and comfortably with their houseguests, Kitty in particular with the women that she loves, and this love coexists with her love for her husband. Anna, on the other hand, is unable to focus on anything else but Vronsky’s love and attention. Though she and Vronsky seem to be occupied in various activities, their bond rarely involves other people, and Anna’s “chief preoccupation” is still “herself in so far as Vronsky held her dear” (583). All that she has is dependent on Vronsky’s love, and she feels that she can only retain it with her physical beauty. Despite remaining beautiful, however, she is still extremely insecure about Vronsky’s feelings towards her, and tries all that she can to make him stay by her side lest he leave her. In the parallel scenes in which both women take leave of their husbands, who are going to the Kashin elections, Vronsky is “bracing himself for a struggle,” (584) because he knows that Anna cannot bear to see him go off into society without her. Conversely, Kitty is the one who advises Levin to go to the elections, even buying him a uniform, because she fears that he will be bored. Kitty is obviously comfortable with her husband being away from her, because she is confident in his love, and has other methods of occupying herself in his absence, while Anna’s insecurities flare every time Vronsky is to leave because he is her everything. In his absence she can only worry about his whereabouts.
Though both Anna and Levin are prone to bouts of jealousy and anger, Levin and Kitty understand each other, and Levin expresses his feelings, while Anna conceals her emotions from Vronsky, who does not understand her. Levin and Kitty are able to understand each other without verbally communicating, and Levin reflects that Kitty “would understand what he meant from a mere hint” (507). Levin, upon seeing Vaskena flirt with Kitty, is overcome with extreme jealousy. Kitty is able to see immediately that “something was wrong with her husband,” despite his best efforts to conceal his anger, and when she asks him about it even once, he “gave vent to his feelings and told her everything” (519). This candidness in their relationship prevents either from concealing hostile feelings, and therefore prevents deep-rooted conflicts and misunderstandings from arising between them. Their straightforward relationship is also placed in contrast to Anna and Vronsky’s relationship, in which Anna does not ever want to discuss difficult matters, the most pressing of which is divorce, because “it irritates her” (568) when Vronsky brings it up. She and Vronsky also often misunderstand each other’s intentions, as when Anna returns from her conversation with Dolly. Vronsky “looked inquiringly into her eyes” to ask about her meeting, but she misinterprets it as a look of longing, and instead only “smiled at him” (581). These misunderstandings are common between the couple, and, paired with Anna’s refusal to address difficult matters, create an atmosphere of restlessness and mistrust.
In addition, Levin, as a man, is able to act to ameliorate his jealously of Vasenka by driving him out of his house. In this way, Levin no longer feels “insulted and tortured” (547) by his presence, and is able to release his feelings. Anna, on the other hand, does not have the power to free herself from her jealousy because she cannot know what Vronsky does when he leaves her to attend to his business in society. Each time he departs is difficult for her, and before he leaves for the Kashin elections she takes to adopting a passive aggressive tone, referring to the “box of books” (584) that would keep her company. Vronsky worsens her pain by wishing to supress her emotions and “avoid a scene,” and his actions make her believe that he does not care for her. Anna and Vronsky have to guess the other’s intentions and meanings, and often these misunderstandings lead to ever-growing hostility.
In the end, Anna’s romance with Vronsky ends with death, while Levin’s romance with Kitty remains fruitful and happy. Though Levin, too, often contemplated suicide, unlike Anna he is able to look past all the evil he sees in those around him and realize that a meaningful life means being good from within oneself. That Levin was able to achieve this understanding was dependent not only on his personality and romance with Kitty, but also his place in society. As a man, he has the opportunity to act upon his emotions and actively seek personal happiness. Anna, on the other hand, constrained by gender expectations in high society, is trapped in endless cycles of obsession, because to obsess is all she can do. Without Vronsky, she has no place in society, and no home of her own.
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