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Research paper topic: Anna Karenina - 1545 words
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.. else's thoughts, whether occasioned by chalk marks on a leather table cover or by the subtlest nuance in someone's eyes, in contrast to the falsehoods of social language that obscure and separate people, create a few brief and sometime ecstatic moments of penetration between usually separate conciousnesses, a transcending of interpersonal space. And yet words are still the tools by which, literally, men live or die. Levin's search for structure, as mentioned above, may be considered a struggle to find a language of truth. Nowhere is this more evident than in Levin's observation of the sky that occurs first at the end of the mowing scene and then much later in Part VIII, an example both of Levin's development towards a language that can frame rationally what he knows intuitively to be true, and of Tolstoy's autobiographical intent in the character of Levin. In a conversation with the painter Kramskoy that occurred around 1875, Tolstoy remarked in answer to Kramskoy's question what one is to believe, Look, the sky's cleared. It is pale blue.
One has to believe that the pale blue up there is a solid vault. Tolstoy's phrasing occurs almost verbatim in Part XIV, Chapter XIII, when Levin thinks to himself while lying on his back and looking up at a cloudless sky, Don't I know that that is infinite space, and not a rounded vault? But however I may screw my eyes and strain my sight, I cannot help seeing it round and limited, and despite my knowledge of it as limitless space I am indubitably right when I see a firm blue vault. The precise wording is key in both quotations -- both Levin's and Tolstoy's experience of the sky is a synthesis of reason (or, more precisely, a belief necessitated by rationality) and experience. That the sky is a blue vault in this second encounter (presumably a naive vision of a Christian heaven in the clouds) is not experienced directly -- just as the Kierkegaardian hero must take a leap of faith and through an effort of will believe in something which is not apparent to the senses, Levin must integrate experience and reason in order to see the sky as a vault. For both Tolstoy and Kierkegaard, God never descends to Earth to demand through experience alone that men believe, and thus Oblonsky can live amorally in a world of variety and charm without retribution.
Levin's first encounter with the vastness of blue sky occurs in Part III, Chapter XII, before he has fully understood the necessity of relating experience to his own internal belief. At the edge of perception comes a mystic change to remind Levin of his duty to reason. Abandoning his dream of marrying a peasant girl (which for Levin would have been disaster because such a marriage would have been occasioned only by the beauty of experience of peasant life and thus would have been an abandonment of the search for rational structure and an admission of defeat) he realizes that he loves Kitty. The struggle to unify intuitive nonverbal communication with a philosophical theory necessarily framed in traditional verbal forms defines Levin's character. Each new diversion -- rational farming methods, his sociological essays on the character of the Russian laborer -- are simply examples of Levin's will to order.
Anna Karenina, too, shares such a desire, devouring in the earlier chapters refined British novels that present experience but fail to fully frame it in reason, and in later chapters philosophical texts. But Anna, in part due to the confining life she has lived as a female in the oppressive Karenin household, where Christianity is used to justify the suppression of feeling and Karenin uses the Bible to try to convince Anna to lie about her affections, lives by a passion so strong that it wars against the carefully constructed social world in which she lives. Anna and Levin are, for all their differences, very similar in mental construction -- both seek to create a moral structure for their lives, Levin in rebellion against the amoral epicureanism of Oblonsky and the hedonistic male world of Moscow billiard halls, gambling dens, kept women and causal adultery, and Anna in rebellion against the oppressive world of Karenin who demands above all proper form -- blind adherence to the female role in society as childbearer, sexless platonic companion, and instrument of social advancement. The epigraph, as pointed out by Boris Eikhenbaum, was found by Tolstoy first in a passage of Schopenhauer, who by Tolstoy's wife's account, occupied much of Tolstoy's reading during the years he wrote Anna Karenina. While Schopenhauer, in contrast to the more spiritual Tolstoy, was a committed atheist, he had a great influence over Tolstoy's evolving theory of the relationship between reason and reality, epistemology and ontology.
For Schopenhauer, man is free from the imposed order that other philosophers saw as arising from the nature of reality -- in such a way, Oblonsky can live naively in the world and never need recourse to morality. Yet, through use of reason, man can transcend the purely physical concerns of his life and choose to become moral and to identify moral laws. Anna must do this -- without an effort of will to reason, she would never have realized how she is trapped by a social marriage into a drastically restricted life. Paralleling (although not, importantly, imitating, as happens in Flaubert's Madame Bovary) the lives of women in fiction who break free of their situations by strength of mind, by the will to see what previously they had considered their necessary duties as falsehoods, she creates her own moral necessity -- to be honest about her adulterous love of Vronsky to Karenin, and to embrace the difficult life of a woman who elevates the ideal of consummated romantic love above that of convenient social marriage. Yet this very act that frees her also dooms her.
In destroying the false idol of social order she must necessarily adopt a new set of rules. Vengeance is mine: I will repay. Schopenhauer, in his text The World as Will and Representation makes a distinction between punishment, which can only occur in the context of a society greater than the individual, and vengeance. Punishment is directed towards the future, and attempts to correct the individual's actions to make them confirm to a certain system of laws held in common. Vengeance is dependent only upon the actions of the past, which may be seen in the Faulknerian sense of the past remaining in a new form in the present, and requires only the individual. Anna has not, as has been said, been punished by the upper class society in which she once lived -- although her social death when she attempts to reenter Moscow life after her prolonged absence was painful to her, the people from which she was estranged are far from her thoughts during the last moments of her life.
The original source of the quotation, Deuteronomy, implies that God's judgement, eternal justice, will correct the injustices committed by the imperfect societies of man on Earth. In Schopenhauer's partly solipsistic conception, it implies that man lives and dies by the structures he places on the world. For Tolstoy, it performs a similar function -- Anna makes an Faustian pact to free herself and to be defined by desire (paralleling Schopenhauer's idea that freedom comes in definiting oneself in terms of freely chosen laws), and when Vronsky's attentions begin to waver, her world falls apart according to the same logic as it opened up, as the belief that love brings life shows its corollary, that the absence of love brings death. Anna's complete abandonment to her self-determined morality in denial of the pressures of reality shows in the interior monologue at the track a few moments before her suicide: ..a whole series of girlish and childish memories .. broke, and life showed itself to her for an instant with all its bright past joys.
But she did not take her eyes of the wheels. Anna is immovable in the face of the purely pleasurable and uninterpreted aspects of life -- girlish delights -- that are Oblonsky's daily bread. Anna is thus a tragic hero in the strict Aristotelian sense of being destroyed by the logical evolution of her personality. Yet it is also true that Tolstoy resists the tragic form in the overall structure of his novel by continuing into Part VIII and into Levin's life after Anna's death. While Anna fails to sustain a life centered in romantic morality, the Goethian ideal of complete devotion, not to the loved one, but the condition of being in reciprocal love itself, Levin finds, at the end of the novel, a way to live that transcends the demands of reality.
In the folk culture of the peasants that he encountered near the very beginning of the novel, he finds the peasant Theodore who understands Levin's need to leave the mundane, to live not for his belly, but for Truth, a goodness that is beyond the chain of cause and effect that so binds the other characters in the novel -- Dolly, for example, who, unable to apply reason outside of pragmatic thought to her life, continues to live, pathetically, with her unfaithful husband. English Essays.
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