Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Physical Activity and Movement Theme Analysis

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.
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon

Anna’s betrayal of her husband and her affair with Vronsky is the central plotline of Anna Karenina. The relationship is marked with a bad omen from the start: when Anna and Vronsky meet, a railway worker falls on the train tracks and is killed, foreshadowing both the doomed nature of the relationship and Anna’s own tragic end. Anna and Vronsky’s love affair escalates quickly and passionately, but it soon sours. Anna becomes incapable of trusting anyone, especially her lover, and she tries to assert her control over Vronsky in an increasingly hectic fashion. Anna’s husband, Karenin, remains stoic throughout the entire affair, even forgiving Vronsky when Anna is ill during childbirth. Karenin’s primary concern is how the relationship appears to the public: he does not want to look like a foolish cuckold, and he does not want to sully the family name. Anna runs off with Vronsky, but she has been disgraced, and she’s ostracized by Russian high society. Anna and Vronsky try to flee the social repercussions of their affair by traveling to Italy and by going to Vronsky’s luxurious country estate, but their relationship falls apart. The more that Anna clings to Vronsky, the more jealous she becomes of him, and the more suffocated he feels. Meanwhile, Dolly decides to stay with Oblonsky, even though he’s been unfaithful, for the sake of keeping their family together. Though adultery is condemned throughout the novel, readers can often see the forces that drive characters to infidelity and can empathize with these choices.

Tolstoy’s characters lead vigorous lives in Anna Karenina. Tolstoy himself was famous for his abundant zeal, which he called thumos, the ancient Greek term for “spirit.” Tolstoy raised a large family, wrote many books on a huge variety of topics, and was an advocate of physical labor. Tolstoy prizes thumos in both his personal life and in his characters, and the reader is often asked to forgive many sins if the characters display enough vigorousness. For example, Oblonsky describes his love affairs with contagious energy and an abundance of passion, and readers are charmed by his actions, despite the fact that they are morally reprehensible.

Many of the crucial moments in the novel take place when characters are in transportation or are engaged in some sort physical activity. Levin is first introduced while he is skating, showing him in his physical prime and performing at his highest capacity. Vronsky is frequently described as having strong teeth, demonstrating his physical prowess. Anna and Vronsky meet at a train, and the ominous movement of the train that kills the railway worker foreshadows Anna’s death. Tolstoy was very suspicious of railroads, as he believed that they were an unnatural force causing too much industrialization and choking the natural Russian lifestyle. Trains are therefore an excess of motion: people should carry themselves on horseback or on their own speed, not in these artificial demonic iron machines. Vronsky buys and cares for his beloved racehorse Frou-Frou, but during a race, a riding error causes Frou-Frou to fall, and she is seriously wounded. Vronsky’s racehorse is symbolic of his relationship with Anna: he believes that he has everything under control, but at a single misstep, everything comes crashing down. Levin feels happiest when he is haying on the farm.

Even though Anna Karenina is undeniably long, Tolstoy keeps events moving forward at a quick clip. He captures scenes and events at the psychologically and physically crucial moment, and he typically uses one key detail to trigger a whole world of events. For example, at the beginning of the novel, an enormous pear becomes a symbolic detail representing Oblonsky’s extramarital affairs. Tolstoy uses different perspectives to show how various characters see the world, but the novel moves not from thought to though but from action to action. We know how characters perceive the world by what they do and how they act, rather than by pausing the action to dwell on interior thought.

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Physical Activity and Movement ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Physical Activity and Movement appears in each chapter of Anna Karenina. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Physical Activity and Movement Quotes in Anna Karenina

Below you will find the important quotes in Anna Karenina related to the theme of Physical Activity and Movement.
Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed in her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Vronsky first sees Anna Karenina at a train station, which foreshadows her eventual tragic end. On the one hand, their first glance has all the hallmarks of stereotypical “love at first sight”: even though they lock eyes only for a moment, both have the impression of being profoundly changed. Anna’s “shining eyes” and “red lips” are common characteristics of a beautiful woman in love. However, the relationship between Vronsky and Anna also has a spiritual dimension that goes beyond the mere cliché. Behind Anna’s expression is a “surplus of something,” suggesting a spiritual dimension that is beyond the capacities of language to express. The limitation of language is a common theme throughout Anna Karenina: the most powerful forces are not ones that can be stated in words, but rather exceed the constraints of speech.

The word “animation” is also crucial throughout the novel as signifying the life force or inner spirit within everyone. The fact that Anna must keep her animation “restrained” suggests that she is being constrained by the conventions of Russian society. From the very beginning, the animation between Vronsky and Anna must be outwardly restrained due to the laws and customs of their society. However, the tension between the outward restraint and the inner emotion only makes their love burn more strongly. Indeed, without the tension that the restraint provides, the animation itself might warp or dim.

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Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

“Don’t you know that you are my whole life? But I know no peace and cannot give you any. All of myself, my love...yes. I cannot think of you and myself separately. You and I are one for me. And I do not see the possibility of peace ahead either for me or for you. I see the possibility of despair, of unhappiness... or I see the possibility of happiness, such happiness!...Isn’t it possible?” he added with his lips only; but she heard him.

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker), Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Vronsky and Anna communicate through a mixture of directly saying what they believe and letting many things go unsaid, but they both understand exactly what the other one is thinking. The bond between Anna and Vronsky is so strong that they can communicate with each other through gesture and thought, rather than merely through words. Although Anna and Vronsky often say out loud what they believe they should say to each other, what goes unsaid is more powerful than what they are pretending to say. Anna and Vronsky give lip service to the idea that they should separate and that Vronsky should try to make things right with Kitty, but their actions speak louder than their words, and the bond between them is stronger than societal conventions. When Vronsky articulates the love between Anna and himself, he says out loud that they are probably doomed to despair and unhappiness, but he and Anna both believe in the possibility that he does not say, which is the (unlikely) hope that they can be happy together.

She strained all the forces of her mind to say what she ought to say; but instead she rested her eyes on him, filled with love, and made no answer.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna recognizes that according to all the conventions of the world around her, she should cut off her relationship with Vronsky: she is married, and entering an affair with him would be disgraceful and socially damaging. However, her emotions are too strong, and they override what she believes she ought to say. Instead of saying anything, she looks at Vronsky, and––as is the case throughout the novel––actions speak louder than words. The look that Anna gives Vronsky echoes the first time that they saw each other at the train station, when their momentary glance instantaneously cemented the connection between them. From the first time Vronsky saw Anna, he recognized the tension between the animation within her and the restraint that society placed on her emotions. Now, the animation spills over the restraint.

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 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.