Quote 5

“. . . [M]y life now, my whole life, regardless of all that may happen to me, every minute of it, is not only not meaningless, as it was before, but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put into it!”

In the closing lines of Anna Karenina, Levin’s exuberant affirmation of his new faith and philosophy of life reminds us of Tolstoy’s aim for his novel, which is philosophical as much as narrative. A typical novel might have ended with Anna’s dramatic suicide, but Tolstoy’s work concludes with an abstract philosophical statement. Levin’s meditation also provides a final instance of how his experiences mirror Anna’s. His beginning reflects Anna’s end. Levin gains a claim to “my whole life . . . every minute of it” shortly after Anna has utterly lost her whole life. Levin’s gain corresponds precisely to Anna’s loss, in a symmetry typical of Tolstoy’s careful structuring of the novel.

Levin’s concluding meditation also mirrors Anna’s last thoughts in its focus on the self. Just as Anna, on her fateful ride to the station, fixates on how we cannot escape ourselves, affirming darkly that we are always our own worst enemies, Levin also asserts here the central place of the self in existence. The difference is that Levin finds the self to be not a punisher, as Anna does, but a nurturer that puts value into life, as a farmer—such as Levin himself—puts seeds into the ground. Anna’s self is a destroyer, while Levin’s is a creator. Both selves are paramount in defining the reality of one’s existence. This focus on the self as the center of existence links Tolstoy with the literary modernists that followed him, and helps explain Tolstoy’s monumental impact on twentieth-century literature and thought.