The meeting between Anna and Levin is a key structural point in the novel, as the parallel story lines converge and the two most emotionally intense characters in the work finally come face to face. Lost in the immensity of Tolstoy’s novel, we may not even initially realize that this is the first time the two protagonists meet. Postponed for so long, the encounter acquires symbolic importance. The result is harmonious, as Levin and Anna like each other and connect easily. Indeed, it is hard to avoid speculating on what a marriage between Anna and Levin might have been like. Beyond a physical attraction, they seem to share a social and spiritual connection. The frequently awkward Levin has no difficulty conversing with Anna, and he never finds her artificial, as he finds many others. Levin’s awareness that in Anna there is “truth,” as he calls it, highlights the dogged search for sincerity that both these protagonists have led throughout the novel. Levin knows he is besotted with Anna, as his reflections on the way home make clear. Moreover, Kitty’s jealousy of Anna hints that she feels Levin’s infatuation too. Of course, nothing comes of this interaction between Anna and Levin. The meeting simply invites us to compare their characters directly and to note the affinities between their respective searches for truth.
These chapters also give us a glimpse into Anna’s increasingly strange and unstable mindset as she begins to slip into suicidal feelings. She is clearly tormented, yet it is striking how little objective cause for torment there is. To be sure, Anna’s social life is no bed of roses, but earlier we see her radiantly happy in her outsider status when Dolly meets her on horseback. Anna blames Vronsky for coldness toward her, yet Vronsky’s readiness to adapt to her plans and his promptness in answering her telegrams hardly appear coldhearted. She reproaches Vronsky for spending time with his male friends, but his socializing does not appear excessive. It would surely be unreasonable for her to expect Vronsky to spend every waking moment with her. Indeed, Anna admits in her apologetic note that her accusations are unfair. Yet we should not judge Anna too harshly; for it seems cruel to accuse her of making it all up, hysterically inventing reasons to be anguished. Her need for love at this time in her life—having abandoned son, husband, friends, and society—is overwhelming. As she repeatedly tells Vronsky, love is all she has left. We may feel that nothing is objectively wrong in Anna’s life, but for her, subjective feelings of love are more important than objective physical well-being.
King Lear on the Heath, the fictional musical fantasia that Levin hears performed, is based on Shakespeare’s great tragedy about isolation and mistrusted love, in which the hero, Lear, spends an anguished night on the moors confronting his own madness. Lear ends up alienated from others—an alienation that we see mirrored in both Levin’s and Anna’s experiences. Both Levin and Anna seek peace of mind in the country, yet both are disappointed when they withdraw into solitude only to discover their private demons—Levin’s dissatisfaction with his unproductive life and Anna’s furiously jealous fits. Moreover, Lear’s rejection of the love of his affectionate daughter Cordelia reminds us of Anna’s forthcoming rejection of Vronsky’s love. In both Anna’s and Lear’s stories, a powerful emotion is the turning point of the plot. The reference to King Lear reminds us of the intensely subjective focus of Anna Karenina. The status of Tolstoy’s novel as a realist work full of historical references sometimes threatens to obscure the fact that it is centrally about the human heart. While social themes are clearly present, Anna Karenina is anchored in the psychological states of its main protagonists, and the way they perceive reality colors the entire sweep of the novel.