Progress is “the development of an individual or society in a direction considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level (Dictionary.reference.com)”. Anna Karenina, written by Leo Tolstoy, is a book filled with tragedy, love and choices. This novel can be interpreted in several different ways, but the most common interpretation is that Anna’s husband Alexis Karenin represents the old fading traditions in Russia and Count Vronsky, Anna’s lover, represents the progress of Russia; Anna who is torn between choosing her husband and young son and her lover represents Russia itself, faced with the choice between the old traditions and the new “progressive” era. This “progressive” interpretation of Anna Karenina is the best and most accurate understanding of the book because of its meaning, its origination, and the affect it has on the characters.
In Leo Tolstoy’s book Anna Karenina, the theme of “progression” plays a major role throughout the whole of the book. Count Alexis Kirillovich Vronsky, Anna Karenina’s lover, is an officer in the Russian army who is handsome, young, and charming, but morally unstable. When Vronsky first meets Anna he is mesmerized by her beauty and, for him, it is love at first sight; for a while his chief goal in life was to make Anna his own. Vronsky is a significant character throughout the novel because he embodies the modernization and progress of Russia. In contrast, Karenin personifies the old and dying customs of Russia.
Because Anna decided to have an affair with Vronsky, she symbolizes Russia struggling while choosing between the old, Karenin, and the new, Vronsky. Because Anna chose Vronsky, at least at first, and forsook Karenin, or the old ways, she fell to ruin. As a result of her choices, Anna went mad with uncertainty; because she committed adultery, she began to doubt Vronsky’s faithfulness to her. Soon, Anna became wholly dependent of Vronsky, so much that he grew tired of her, believing that her new way of clinging to him was old fashioned and annoying. Convinced that Vronsky no longer loved her, Anna threw herself under a moving train at the train station where she was supposed to meet up with Vronsky. Anna did not realize that although there are certain things about progress that are virtuous, too much of anything, even a good thing is bad.
The topic of “progress” seen throughout the book Anna Karenina was implied due to the setting of the book. Leo Tolstoy, the author, placed the book in the 1870s. From the 1850s to early 1900s Russia had the fastest and largest population growth rate out of all the important major powers after the U.S.A.; during this time Russia’s population nearly doubled. In 1870 the czar or Russia authorized city councils to be made that raised taxes and charged labor to help with city expenses, such as: roads, local schools, public healthcare, food supplies, and jails (Wikipedia.org, History of Russia; geographic.org).
During the 1960s and 1970s the percentage of working age people with at least a minor education nearly doubled. All of this “progress” steadily affected the characters of Anna Karenina. This kind of modernization helped instigate Anna to be discontent with her life as Karenin’s wife and desire to be with Vronsky. If Anna had not desired life to be exciting, as modern ideas portrayed life to be, she would have easily been satisfied with a dull life with her old husband Karenin.
All through the entirety of Anna Karenina, one can see how Anna’s choosing Vronsky over Karenin (the new over the old) affected her and the people around her. Before Anna met Vronsky she was much more contented with her life; after she met Vronsky and had grown to know him, her life, her husband and her son, seemed dull and boring in comparison. Upon getting to know Vronsky, Anna began to crave love, the kind that was exciting, and the kind that Vronsky offered her. Slowly, Anna realized how tedious her relationship with Karenin was; she realized that before Vronsky had come into her life, she had poured out all her love on her son. In the beginning, Anna did not wish to affiliate with Vronsky because she knew that an affair with another man would not only affect her and her place in society, but it would also affect her young son and her relationship with him. Not long after Vronsky had proclaimed his love to her, Anna told him “What you are saying is wrong, and if you are a good man, I beg you to forget it, as I will forget it (Part 1, Chapter 30, and Page 2).”
From this quote an individual can see that, Anna was a conscientious woman, who knew right from wrong, and chose, at first, to do what was right. However, she was tempted by evil and sadly she gave in. Later on in the story, Anna discovered that she was pregnant with Vronsky’s child; in her confused frightened state of mind, she told Karenin, her husband, that she was Vronsky’s mistress. One would think that this would be a significant turning point in the book, but instead of breaking off their marriage Karenin decided that he wanted to put an end to their affair as privately as possible and have his marriage with Anna appear as it had before. For the longest time, Karenin had been suspicious, but he trusted his wife and believed she would never be disloyal to him; in his heart of hearts Karenin realizes that he is jealous of Vronsky because Vronsky is young, handsome, and the embodiment of progress and modernization.
In comparison, Karenin was old; he was twenty years senior to Anna. A successful marriage is built around love and trust; in Anna and Karenin’s marriage there had been no true and enduring love; this caused Anna to be unfaithful to Karenin, which caused Karenin to be envious of Vronsky, and as a result of it all no love or trust remained between them. In comparison, two other character’s relationship was quite the opposite. Anna’s brother’s wife’s sister was a young woman named Kitty; near the end of the book Kitty married a man named Levin, who was also an old friend of Anna’s brother. Earlier in the book, even before Anna met Vronsky, Kitty had rejected Levin’s proposal believing that Vronsky intended to propose to her. However, after Vronsky had met Anna he stopped going to see Kitty and went instead to follow Anna wherever she went. Well along in the story, Kitty regrets rejecting Levin and after a while they get back together.
Because of how Anna had stolen Vronsky from her Kitty, for the longest time, was envious of Anna and Levin was jealous of Vronsky because Vronsky had also taken his love. Since Kitty’s and Levin’s love was much deeper than that of Anna’s and Karenin’s, they were able to overcome these trifles and (basically) lived happily ever after. In conclusion, the understanding of “progress” seen throughout the book Anna Karenina is accurate because of its meaning, origination, and overall effect of the characters. The interpretation of Alexis Karenin representing the fading old area of Russia, Vronsky symbolizing “progress”, and Anna herself signifying Russia is most relevant because of how significant it is throughout the entire book.
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