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1. The epigraph that opens Anna
Karenina is a quotation from the Bible, suggesting that
religion will be important in the novel. Yet, although characters
often toss off biblical epigrams in casual conversation, Tolstoy
makes few direct references to religion or the church. Why might
the author begin with a biblical quotation but then fail to affirm
traditional religion elsewhere in the novel?
2. Tolstoy often gives us access
to Vronsky’s inner thoughts, but near the end of the novel he does
not, leaving us wondering what Vronsky feels as he endures Anna’s
jealousy and anger. We do not know whether the outwardly cool Vronsky
is seething with resentment, generous with sympathy, or patiently
gritting his teeth. Why does Tolstoy hide Vronsky’s thoughts from
us at such a key moment in the novel?
3. Law, religion, and society
all harshly condemn Anna’s adultery. But her brother, Stiva, is
also an adulterer, cheating on Dolly not once but twice. Stiva’s
case is punished much less severely. Why and how does Tolstoy contrast
these cases of adultery that have such different consequences?
4. Tolstoy wrote Anna
Karenina at a time when Russia was struggling with questions
about how to relate to western Europe—whether it should imitate
the West or follow a unique path. How do the two major western European episodes
in the novel (Kitty at the German spa, Anna and Vronsky in Italy)
contribute to Tolstoy’s exploration of the relationship between
Russia and the West?
5. Critics are divided in their
assessments of the novel’s overall views of women. Tolstoy shows
sympathy for women who suffer in arranged, passionless marriages
and who are shunned by society for the same crimes that men commit
with impunity. However, many readers have felt that Tolstoy bears a
grudge against women and that Anna’s suicide is an expression of
misogyny. On the whole, do you consider the novel feminist, misogynist,
or neutral in its stance?
Ace your assignments with our guide to Anna Karenina!