“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” the novel begins. The Oblonsky household is in turmoil: Stiva Oblonsky has been having an affair with the children’s former governess, and his wife, Dolly, has found out and has announced that she will not live in the same house with him.
The first line of Anna Karenina is one of the most famous lines in literature and helps to establish that not only is the book a story about particular people, it is a philosophical exploration of life and the organization of humanity. The first line can also be read as ironic. Of course it is not true that all happy families are alike—it just seems that way to those who are unhappy.
Ever since the fight, Dolly has refused to leave her rooms. On the third day after the quarrel, Oblonsky wakes up on his sofa in the study, having just had a dream about a wonderful dinner party. He remembers the moment when Dolly found out about the affair: he was coming back from the theater carrying a luscious pear as a gift for her, but she waved an incriminating note in front of him, and all he could do was smile involuntarily and stupidly.
Dolly won’t leave her rooms, so Oblonsky is consigned to the study. Although he feels guilt and remorse, the vigorous and energetic Oblonsky still loves life. He knows what he did is wrong, but he cannot help but be exuberant. The pear is a characteristic Tolstoy detail: one specific, realistic object that carries much symbolic weight.