Anna Karenina

by: Leo Tolstoy

Motifs

Death

The co-protagonists of the novel, Anna and Levin, each encounter death numerous times. Shortly after we first meet Levin, he talks to a philosopher about death, asking if he believes existence ends when the body dies. Anna has only just entered the story when a man throws himself under a train. Later, Levin witnesses the slow, painful death of his brother Nikolai, an event that makes death disturbingly real to Levin where before it had only been an abstraction. Then Anna nearly dies in childbirth, temporarily resolving her problems with Vronsky and Alexei Karenin. As she becomes increasingly desperate later in the novel, she begins thinking of death as the only solution to her troubles, until finally she throws herself under a train. Levin, too, considers suicide. Although happy otherwise, he despairs that he cannot know the meaning of his existence, and he comes so close to suicide that he fears having a rope or rifle nearby because he might kill himself. These examples suggest that, for Anna, death—specifically suicide—serves as a means of escape from her problems. For Levin, on the other hand, death represents the complete, inescapable end of his existence, which calls the meaning of his entire life into question.