Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Themes and Colors
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Anna Karenina, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon

Although Tolstoy grew up in aristocratic society, he became disillusioned by the artifice and pettiness that dominated this world. While Tolstoy was writing Anna Karenina, he was developing his own philosophies of nonviolence and anarchism: he believed that people, not government bureaucracies, should take care of each other. Throughout his later life, the wealthy Tolstoy rejected his Russian noble background and dressed in peasant clothes. In the discussions of farming and peasant life that form a large part of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy the philosophical and political turmoil in the rapidly shifting landscape of 19th century Russia.

Tolstoy devotes long passages of Anna Karenina to descriptions of Levin’s farm and the routines of rural life in 19th century Russia. These sections of the novel serve as a sharp contrast to the urban world that Anna Karenina inhabits. Tolstoy gives many technical details about agricultural practices, depicting farmers’ daily customs and describing the social, political, and historical background of farming life. The peasants in Anna Karenina symbolize the native Russian spirit, and Levin finds great joy when he works with his hands. However, Levin clashes with his peasants when he tries to introduce new Western methods of farming: his peasants turn against him, claiming that the old Russian ways are still the best.

The rural idyll has been a common genre since ancient times, and writers throughout the ages have often favorably compared the simplicity of the country to the artifice of the city. By cultivating the land, farmers contribute to the cycles of the earth, working towards a greater good rather than focusing solely on their individual desires. Tolstoy gives so many rich details about pastoral life because he wants to emphasize the power of a connection to nature and working with one’s hands over the false nature of urban life. Farmers must work hard, but they also have to trust the fortunes of nature. However, the pastoral life in Anna Karenina is by no means perfect, and tensions between the rural idyll and the forces of the city come to dominate many of the political and philosophical questions throughout the novel.

Farming broadens Levin’s perspective and makes him come to appreciate history, nature, and his culture. Similarly, the presence of so many lengthy passages about pastoral life in Anna Karenina broaden the scope of the novel, expanding it from a story of adultery to a nationalistic epic of 19th century Russian life. Levin joins the zemstvo, or local council, to argue that reform needs to happen on a personal scale: rather than introducing grand, sweeping, state-funded projects that the peasants may end up rejecting, estate owners should make improvements on an individual, local basis. The passages about farming throughout Anna Karenina play out the debate between abstract ideas about society and nationhood and tangible, personal good works and improvement. Though Tolstoy has grand plans for structural, sweeping change, he believes that this must be accomplished on an individual basis from the ground up.

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Farming and Rural Life ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Farming and Rural Life appears in each chapter of Anna Karenina. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Chapter length:
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Farming and Rural Life Quotes in Anna Karenina

Below you will find the important quotes in Anna Karenina related to the theme of Farming and Rural Life.
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 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 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.