Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina


Leo Tolstoy

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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.

Marriage and Family Life

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Beginning with this famous opening line, Anna Karenina is an exploration of the complications of family life. Early nineteenth-century Russian novels often featured idealized portrayals domestic bliss. Family life and individual freedom might seem initially to be contrasting forces throughout the novel, but even though characters may think they will have more freedom if they reject all of the conventions of…

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Adultery and Jealousy

Anna Karenina begins with adultery: Anna’s brother, Oblonsky, has had an affair with the family’s governess, and his household is in turmoil. This opening scene establishes adultery as a driving force throughout the novel. Although adultery certainly has moral and religious consequences in the novel, the main causes and effects of acts of unfaithfulness are explored in terms of societal issues. Feelings of social suffocation propel Anna to have an affair, and characters make decisions…

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Physical Activity and Movement

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…

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Society and Class

During the 1870s, while Tolstoy was writing Anna Karenina, Russia was undergoing a great deal of political and societal change. Anna Karenina takes place against the backdrop of liberal reforms introduced by Emperor Alexander II in the 1860s. These reforms included rapid growth of industry, building of railroads, introduction of local government in the form of the zemstvo, military reforms, and a freer press. Throughout the novel, there is a growing tension between…

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Farming and Rural Life

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…

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Compassion and Forgiveness

The Biblical epigraph to Anna Karenina is “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” Despite this mentality of revenge underpinning the novel, forgiveness and vengeance are both core components in how characters approach their various situations. In Anna Karenina, characters are neither wholly good nor entirely bad. Everyone has a mixture of admirable qualities and shameful flaws, so all individuals need to be understood and treated on their own terms rather than judged and dismissed…

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