Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Natural World Symbol Icon
The characters’ relationship with the natural world is symbolic throughout the novel: the more that characters are in touch with nature, the happier they are, but characters who are hypocritical are less connected to the natural world. When Vronsky is riding with Frou-Frou in the race, he grows over-confident. As in Greek mythology, when Icarus flies too close to the sun and falls, when Vronsky does not pay attention to the natural rhythms of his horse and his connection with the animal, Frou-Frou falls and must be killed. Frou-Frou is symbolic of Vronsky and Anna’s relationship: although Vronsky believes he can ride past everyone and succeed in both the horserace and his affair, he does not quite situate himself correctly, and both horse and affair ultimately collapse. Vronsky and Anna are out of touch with the natural rhythm of things: although they surround themselves with luxuries, they do not have an emotional bond with their child, and their own relationship only fractures and weakens instead of taking root and growing stronger. Levin is the main character who is the most in touch with nature throughout the novel. He is deeply attuned to the signals of the natural world, feeling happy when he sees sticky little leaves and buds on the trees. Tolstoy also even provides a few scenes from the perspective of Laska, Levin’s hunting dog, as a counterpoint against the hypocrisy of many of the humans in the novel. The weather often mirrors characters’ moods. For example, at the end of the novel, when Koznyshev gets into an argument on Levin’s estate, storm clouds gather and darken; the storm clouds at this point also signify potential danger for Kitty and Mitya in the forest, but when Levin finds his wife and son safe and sound, the rain clears.

Natural World Quotes in Anna Karenina

The Anna Karenina quotes below all refer to the symbol of Natural World. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Viking edition of Anna Karenina published in 2000.
Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

The old grass and the sprouting needles of new grass greened, the buds on the guelder-rose, the currants and the sticky, spirituous birches swelled, and on the willow, all sprinkled with golden catkins, the flitting, newly hatched bee buzzed.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna Karenina is famous for the grand, sweeping scope of its narrative, as the novel manages to intertwine several family dramas into its shifting political and religious landscape. Tolstoy is also notorious for his vivid characters. Yet in the midst of the enormous, ambitiously wide-ranging field of vision that the novel encompasses, Tolstoy retains the control to concentrate on tiny, vivid details of life. Even though Levin is sad about his failed affair with Kitty, the world continues to revolve, and spring comes again. Tolstoy’s attention to the buds on the trees also foreshadows that Levin’s relationship with Kitty might yet revive, just as the natural world can renew itself year after year. While there is life in nature, there is hope for Levin.

These sticky little buds on the trees provide a contrast again Anna and Vronsky’s affair. For the earth, spring is a time of natural, joyful rejuvenation. But Anna and Vronsky are too focused on themselves and their desires to pay attention to the rhythms of the world around them.

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Part 2, Chapter 25 Quotes

She flew over the ditch as if without noticing it; she flew over like a bird; but just then Vronsky felt to his horror that, having failed to keep up with the horse’s movement, he, not knowing how himself, had made a wrong, an unforgivable movement as he lowered himself into the saddle. ... The awkward movement Vronsky had made had broken her back. But he understood that much later.

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker), Frou-Frou
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

The relationship between Vronsky and his horse serves as a symbol for the shifts that have occurred in his life as a result of his affair with Anna. Vronsky believes that he is a master of the universe, that he can do anything and he will always triumph. However, he is no longer in sync with his horse, Frou-Frou. Vronsky and the horse used to be as one. Now that Vronsky and Anna have consummated their bond, however, which causes a rupture in social as well as moral codes, Vronsky has experienced an existential fissure from his beloved animal. All it takes is one tiny slip, one moment in which Vronsky stops paying careful attention, and everything that he has taken for granted in his life is altered irrevocably.

Throughout the novel, characters’ relationships with the physical, natural world serve as a good barometer for their inner harmony and the state of their own moral contentment. When Vronsky loses his deep connection with his horse, making the fatal error here, it is not because he makes a huge, deliberate mistake, but because his perception of the universe and the physical world he inhabits are different in a way that he cannot see but is deeply significant. Frou-Frou’s fall foreshadows the irrevocable crack in Vronsky and Anna’s relationship that will only continue to widen and deepen.

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

He thought of nothing, desired nothing, except not to lag behind and to do the best job be could. He heard only the clang of scythes and ahead of him saw Titus’s erect figure moving on, the curved semicircle of this mowed space, grass and flower-heads bending down slowly and wavily about the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the swath, where rest would come.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

When Levin speaks with his brother about societal affairs and intellectual concerns, he feels anxious and worried. When he reconnects with nature, however, he feels restored. Levin’s initial physical awkwardness yields when he can forget the cares of the world and succumb to the rhythms of the farm, as in this famous mowing scene. The dissipation of Levin’s awkwardness as he immerses himself in manual labor foreshadows his conclusion at the end of the novel that to be happy, people have to let go of their worldly cares and surrender themselves to faith.

Levin and Titus share unspoken communication, bonding through their physical actions and needs rather than expressing themselves through words that may be misinterpreted or imperfectly suited to their needs. Although the two are of very different social statuses, when they can connect without using language, they become equal. Though Titus is a peasant on Levin’s land, in the field Titus becomes the master because he has far more experience with nature.

Part 4, Chapter 15 Quotes

All that night and morning Levin had lived completely unconsciously and had felt himself completely removed from the conditions of material life. He had not eaten for a whole day, had not slept for two nights, had spent several hours undressed in the freezing cold, yet felt not only fresh and healthy as never before but completely independent of his body.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 402
Explanation and Analysis:

When Levin proposes to Kitty and she accepts him, the world seems to align itself to Levin’s benefit. Here, the natural world is not a mirror of Levin’s mood, but instead, he sees his own happiness reflected in the world around him. Even the most mundane sights, like pigeons flying in the sun and cabbies waiting to drive people home, appear to be imbued with significance and joy.

Yet Levin’s emotions, wonderful as they may be, are not sustainable. Levin is so filled with joy that he doesn’t notice the cold weather, or that he might be hungry or tired; instead, he ignores his responses to the natural world in favor of celebrating his pure joy upon a triumphant proposal to Kitty. On the one hand, transcending the needs of the body is exhilarating, and Levin indulges in his excitement. However, at some point Levin will have to live in the real world, and he must learn how to balance his emotional and his bodily sensations.

Part 5, Chapter 20 Quotes

The sight of his brother and the proximity of death renewed in Levin’s soul that feeling of horror at the inscrutability and, with that, the nearness and inevitability of death, which had seized him on that autumn evening when his brother had come for a visit. The feeling was now stronger than before; he felt even less capable than before of understanding the meaning of death, and its inevitability appeared still more horrible to him; but now, thanks to his wife’s nearness, the feeling did not drive him to despair: in spite of death, he felt the necessity to live and to love. He felt that love saved him from despair and that under the threat of despair this love was becoming still stronger and purer.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin , Princess Katerina (Kitty) Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky, Nikolai Dmitrich Levin
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 504
Explanation and Analysis:

Nikolai’s death in the novel is the culmination, on the one hand, of tragedy and grief. However, his passing is ultimately part of the natural cycle of life, and it paves the way for rejuvenation and happiness. Tolstoy pairs Nikolai’s death with Kitty’s discovery of her pregnancy to celebrate the cycle of life. Levin can tolerate his brother’s passing because he has found his larger place within the natural world. When he had only his brother to cling to as a family figure, Levin tied his own self-worth with his brother’s illness. However, because he now has Kitty’s love, and because he loves Kitty, Levin does not fall into an abyss of despair over his brother’s passing. Instead, Levin grieves for Nikolai in a mature, balanced fashion, discovering that his grief can be balanced in an equal and opposite way by his emotions towards Kitty. Nikolai’s death crystallizes Levin’s deep bond with Kitty. Kitty helped care for Nikolai on his deathbed, easing one person out of the world as a new life, unbeknownst to her, began to quicken in her womb.

Part 6, Chapter 10 Quotes

But it was an unlucky day; he missed, and when he went to look for the one he had shot, he could not find it either. He searched everywhere in the sedge, but Laska did not believe he had shot it, and when he sent her to search, she did not really search but only pretended.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin , Laska
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 584
Explanation and Analysis:

Tolstoy often gives descriptions in Anna Karenina filtered through particular characters’ perspectives. Here, Tolstoy presents the hunt from the point of view of Levin’s dog, Laska. Levin feels as though his power has been stripped away from him because Oblonsky has managed to saddle him with Veslovsky, a society dandy who flirts with Kitty. Even when Levin has managed to give Veslovsky the slip, he still feels frustrated and helpless, since he is jealous that Veslovsky will steal Kitty away.

Although Levin tries to hide his frustration and discontent from himself, he cannot hide his feelings from his dog. Throughout the novel, Tolstoy uses connections with the natural world to suggest characters’ genuine emotions. When Levin can be away from societal pressures on his farm, he is calm and composed enough to hunt successfully. However, Oblonsky brings the rules of society to Levin’s farm, which disarms Levin and throws him out of balance and off his game.

Part 7, Chapter 14 Quotes

He knew and felt only that what was being accomplished was similar to what had been accomplished a year ago in a hotel in a provincial capital, on the deathbed of his brother Nikolai. But that had been grief and this was joy. But that grief and this joy were equally outside all ordinary circumstances of life, were like holes in this ordinary life, through which something higher showed. And just as painful, as tormenting in its coming, was what was now accomplished; and just as inconceivably, in contemplating this higher thing, the soul rose to such heights as it had never known before, where reason was no longer able to overtake it.

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin (speaker), Princess Katerina (Kitty) Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky, Nikolai Dmitrich Levin
Related Symbols: Natural World, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 713
Explanation and Analysis:

Levin sees both the death of Nikolai and the birth of his child as events that stand outside the scope of his normal life. At this point in the novel, Levin has proceeded throughout most of his daily activities without giving much thought to a higher power. However, in moments of extreme emotion, Levin embodies the cliché that "there are no atheists in foxholes." When he finds himself in the presence of birth or death, and feels powerless to make any change happen by his own physical means, Levin finds himself repeating a prayer over and over. He feels so deeply connected to Kitty that their bond transcends reason and logic and makes him aware of a force beyond the realm of ordinary existence.

Levin’s transformation from a staunch atheist into an avowed believer mirrors Tolstoy’s spiritual journey. When Tolstoy was a young man, he was a firm atheist, but by the end of his life, he had converted and become an extremely spiritual person. Levin’s deep connection with the natural world through his farm is paralleled by his growing connection to the supernatural world through faith.

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Natural World Symbol Timeline in Anna Karenina

The timeline below shows where the symbol Natural World appears in Anna Karenina. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 26
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
As soon as Levin returns to the country, he feels like himself again. His dog, Laska, runs to greet him, and his servants are happy to see him home. Levin... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 29
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Anna is relieved to be on the train leaving Moscow. She begins to read an English novel, but she cannot concentrate. Rather than... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 30
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
As Anna stands on the train platform in the snowstorm, Vronsky suddenly appears. He has followed her from Moscow. The news... (full context)
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
The first face Anna sees when the train pulls into Petersburg is her husband’s, and the first thing she notices are his unsightly... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Meanwhile, spring has returned to the farm, with sticky new buds on the birches and baby animals.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...to see him. Oblonsky has arrived to do some shooting, see Levin, and sell a forest. Levin tells Oblonsky about his book on farming and deliberately tries not to ask about... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Laska, the dog, sees a snipe and thinks that the men will miss it because of their talk,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 16
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...him off, saying he has no right to know. He changes the subject to the forest that Oblonsky is selling. Levin knows that Oblonsky is getting a bad deal and is... (full context)
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...dealer tries to bargain down the price, but when Levin says that he’ll buy the forest himself, the dealer sticks with the original deal. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...and relax, but all Levin can think about is going back to work in the fields. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...Levin to take him fishing, and though Koznyshev wants to linger all day in the fields, Levin is eager to get back home to make plans for mowing and harvesting. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...from the local district affairs, but Levin is more concerned with the ploughing of his fields than the welfare of the peasants. Levin admits that he doesn’t care about the “common... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
After breakfast in the house, Levin returns to the fields to mow. The longer he mows, the more natural he feels. The only parts that... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 17
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...to the party. Betsy writes a note to give to Vronsky’s footman, and when she leaves the room for a moment, Anna adds at the bottom that she needs to see... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 24
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
After his night on the haystack, Levin now loathes the farming he once loved: by spending time as one of the... (full context)
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...To distract himself, he goes to visit his friend Sviyazhsky to go snipe-shooting in the countryside. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 15
At dawn, Levin walks to Kitty’s house, feeling wonderful. He and Kitty kiss. Upon hearing the news,... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 9
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
They come to a small marsh and Levin wants to continue, but the other men insist on shooting there; Levin waits... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 10
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Veslovsky drives the horses too fast, and they arrive at the big marsh while it’s still too hot to shoot. Both Levin and Oblonsky plot separately how they... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 12
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...so he goes out hunting by himself. Levin and Laska search for snipe through the marsh; they are in perfect sync as they hunt, and Levin is able to snag several... (full context)
Part 8, Chapter 14
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...house, he sees Koznyshev, Katavasov, and Dolly; Kitty has taken Mitya, the baby, to the forest because of the heat in the house, despite the fact that Levin doesn’t like it... (full context)
Part 8, Chapter 16
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...argue, Koznyshev and Katavasov aren’t going to change their minds. He points out that the rain clouds are gathering and that they should go home. (full context)
Part 8, Chapter 17
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
They all make it home just in time: the rain starts as soon as they step on the porch. Levin asks Agafya where Kitty and... (full context)
Part 8, Chapter 18
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Mitya still smiles for his parents, not for the maid. Levin says that during the storm, he realized how much he loved Mitya. (full context)
Part 8, Chapter 19
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Levin watches the storm as it fades into the distance: at each bolt of lightning, the Milky Way appears... (full context)