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.
Physical Activity and Movement ThemeTracker
Physical Activity and Movement Quotes in Anna Karenina
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.