Anna Karenina Essay Questions

1. The epigraph that opens Anna Kareninais a quotation from the Bible, suggesting that religion will be important in the novel. Yet, although characters often toss off biblical epigrams in casual conversation, Tolstoy makes few direct references to religion or the church. Why might the author begin with a biblical quotation but then fail to affirm traditional religion elsewhere in the novel?

2. Tolstoy often gives us access to Vronsky’s inner thoughts, but near the end of the novel he does not, leaving us wondering what Vronsky feels as he endures Anna’s jealousy and anger. We do not know whether the outwardly cool Vronsky is seething with resentment, generous with sympathy, or patiently gritting his teeth. Why does Tolstoy hide Vronsky’s thoughts from us at such a key moment in the novel?

3. Law, religion, and society all harshly condemn Anna’s adultery. But her brother, Stiva, is also an adulterer, cheating on Dolly not once but twice. Stiva’s case is punished much less severely. Why and how does Tolstoy contrast these cases of adultery that have such different consequences?

4. Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina at a time when Russia was struggling with questions about how to relate to western Europe—whether it should imitate the West or follow a unique path. How do the two major western European episodes in the novel (Kitty at the German spa, Anna and Vronsky in Italy) contribute to Tolstoy’s exploration of the relationship between Russia and the West?

5. Critics are divided in their assessments of the novel’s overall views of women. Tolstoy shows sympathy for women who suffer in arranged, passionless marriages and who are shunned by society for the same crimes that men commit with impunity. However, many readers have felt that Tolstoy bears a grudge against women and that Anna’s suicide is an expression of misogyny. On the whole, do you consider the novel feminist, misogynist, or neutral in its stance?

1. How are we to understand the epigram "Vengeance is mine, I will repay"? Should Anna's fate be considered the result of God's vengeance? Is Anna's desire to take vengeance on Vronsky being condemned?

2. When Vronsky first meets Anna, "it was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will..." (p. 61). What is this something? Why is it expressed beyond her will?

3. Why is Anna able to reconcile Stiva and Dolly?

4. We are told that it is unpleasant for Anna to read about other people's lives because she "wanted too much to live herself" (p. 100). Why are reading and living placed in opposition to one another?

5. When Anna and Vronsky have satisfied their desire for one another, why does Tolstoy compare Vronsky to a murderer?

6. After telling her husband about her affair, why does Anna feel that "everything was beginning to go double in her soul" (p. 288)?

7. Why does Tolstoy counterpose Levin and Kitty's marriage with Anna and Vronsky's relationship?

8. Why does Levin continually imagine his future in such detail, only to have his actual experience differ from what he had expected?

9. What keeps Dolly from having an affair like Anna's, even though she imagines one "parallel to it, an almost identical love affair of her own" (p. 609)?

10. While explaining her affair to Dolly, Anna says, "I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself" (p. 616). Does the novel present these two objectives as compatible or incompatible?

11. Why, as she later admits to herself, did Anna want Levin to fall in love with her when she met him?

12. Why does Anna kill herself? Why does everyone and everything seem so ugly to Anna just before she does so?

13. Is it Anna herself or the society in which she lives that is more responsible for her unhappiness?

14. Why are the consequences of Stiva's adultery so insignificant relative to those Anna faces?

15. Why does Vronsky go to war as a volunteer after Anna's suicide?

16. Of all the novel's characters, why is it only Anna and Levin who contemplate suicide?

17. Why does Levin believe that he must keep the revelation in which he comes to understand faith a secret from Kitty?

18. Why does Tolstoy end the novel with Levin's musings about the nature of faith and his embrace of morally justifiable actions as the basis for the meaning of life?

Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2012
  • Paperback: 862 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics
  • ISBN-10: 0143035002
  • ISBN-13: 9780143035008
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