Anna Karenina: Characters and the Life NovelBy examining the character list, one immediately notices the valueTolstoy places on character. With one hundred and forty named characters andseveral other unnamed characters, Tolstoy places his central focus in AnnaKarenina on the characters. He uses their actions and behavior to develop theplot and exemplify the major themes of the novel. In contrast to Flaubert’sMadame Bovary, Tolstoy wishes to examine life as it really is. Both novels haverelationships and adultery as a central theme.
However, Tolstoy gives us a muchmore lifelike representation in Anna Karenina by creating characters, bothmajor and minor, that contribute to the sense of realism.The most striking feature of Tolstoy’s minor characters is that althoughthey may only appear briefly, they still possess a sense of lifelikeness. Whena character is introduced, Tolstoy provides the reader with details of thecharacters appearance and actions that give a sense of realism. For example,the waiter that Stiva and Levin encounter at their dinner, although a flatcharacter is definitely presented in a manner which allows him to have a senseof lifelikeness and fullness. From the speech patterns the waiter uses to thedescription of the fit of his uniform, one is presented with the details thatallow the waiter to contribute to the novel in means beyond simply the presenceof a minor character. His description and actions provide the novel with asense of “real life”.
Another way in which Tolstoy gives the minor character a sense of lifeis by making them unpredictable. One sees this in the character of Ryabinin.When initially discussed, the reader is told that upon conclusion of business,Ryabinin will always say “positively and finally” (p161).
However uponconclusion of the sale of the land, Ryabinin does not use his usual tag.This tag would normally be characteristic of the flat, minor charactersuch as Ryabinin.However, Tolstoy wishes to add to the lifelikeness of even his minorcharacters and allows them to behave as one would expect only major, roundcharacters.
The detail Tolstoy gives to all of his characters, including theminor characters, contributes to the realism of both the novel and thecharacters.Perhaps the most realistic of Tolstoy’s major characters is KonstantinLevin. Throughout the novel, the reader witnesses the trials of Levin’s lifeand his response to them. Unlike Flaubert, Tolstoy reveals Levin in a mannerwhich gives him a sense of roundedness and lifelikeness. On his quest formeaning in his life, Levin is essentially a realist, just as Tolstoy wishes tobe in writing Anna Karenina.
We first encounter Levin when he arrives in Moscow to propose to KittyShtcherbatsky. When Kitty refuses his proposal, Levin has been defeated in thefirst step he feels is necessary for personal satisfaction. After the refusal,Levin returns again to the county in hopes of finding personal satisfaction inthe country life style. He turns to farming, mowing with the peasants and othersuch manual work to fill his time, all the while still searching for meaning inhis life. This desire for meaning remains unfulfilled until he finds happinessand a sense of family happiness in his marriage to Kitty.
However, even in this state of happiness, Levin must face tragedy. Soonafter the marriage, Levin’s sickly brother, Nicolai Dmitrich Levin, is dying oftuberculosis and Levin must confront his death. This death adds to Levin’ssense of the reality of life, realizing that life now not only centers on livingbut on not living. This event, combined with his previous search for meaning,brings Levin to the conclusion that one must live for their soul rather that fora gratification through things such as marriage and family.It is this epiphany that gives Levin his sense of roundedness.
Levin hasgrown from the beginning of the novel when his search for happiness was centeredon personal fulfillment through marriage. By the conclusion of the novel Levinhas reached a sense of personal satisfaction as well as personal salvationthrough his realization that love not only entails physical love, as that forhis wife, but also in a love of God and living for God.In contrast to the growth that Levin experiences is the stagnation ofthe life of the title character Anna Karenina. At the beginning of the novel,the married Anna is confronted with a new suitor, Count Alexy KirillovitchVronsky.
At first Anna rejects Vronsky, but at the site of her husband uponreturn