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Anna Karinina's Transformation

Anna Karinina follows Anna as her life falls apart and she descends from a position of privilege and beauty to one of despair and isolation, yet Anna remains a sympathetic character to the reader until the end.

Anna Karenina is a novel rich in characters, emotion, and nineteenth century Russian culture. Through his precise and lyric prose, Leo Tolstoy paints a detailed picture of the Russian aristocracy?s life: the frivolity and excess most partake of in the city and the calm and serene family life a few pursue in the country. Tolstoy?s epic discusses everything from views on religion to human morality. Woven through all of this description and discussion is the tale of Anna Karenina and her lover, Aleksey Vronsky. Tolsty details Anna?s frightening journey from a poised and enthralling socialite to a desperate and broken women. Anna Karinina follows Anna as her life falls apart and she descends from a position of privilege and beauty to one of despair and isolation, yet Anna remains a sympathetic character to the reader until the end.
In the beginning of the novel, Anna is a woman of society, cultured and refined, to whom both the characters of the novel and the reader are immediately drawn. In her first appearance in the novel, she is described as having an, ?elegance and modest grace that [is] apparent in her whole figure? (72). Vronksy, has at first, ?a vague recollection of something stiff and tedious [emotion] evoked by the name Karenina? (69), and yet he is immediately taken by Anna, thinking that she is, ?very charming? (75). Vronsky too is a man of society, a man who has learned to be unaffected by a women?s charms. However, Anna breezes through these defenses in a moment, and Vronsky finds himself, ?delighted [by Anna], as though at something special?(69), and falls deeply in love with her. Immediately upon meeting Anna, Vronsky finds her irresistible.
Anna?s attractiveness is not just apparent to men. Kitty too finds herself, ?in love with [Anna], as young girls do fall in love with older and married women?(84). At the ball the two women attend, Kitty comments how Anna?s appearance in an understated black dress is, ?simple, natural, elegant, and at the same time gay and animated.? (92). Anna is ?enchanting?(96), and the men and women in the novel both fall under the spell of her beauty, self-confidence, and poise.
The reader also falls in love with Anna, due to both her beauty, and her sympathetic nature. After Dolly learns of her husband?s infidelity Anna comes to act as a mediator. Dolly is immensely upset, but Anna is able to soothe her simply by saying, ?I don?t want to speak for him, or try to comfort you . . . But darling, I?m simply sorry, sorry from my heart for you? (79). Rather than entreating Dolly to be Christian and forgive, or attempt to console her, both of which would be more cruel than kind, Anna merely empathizes with Dolly and thus demonstrates her compassion. Tolstoy notes that, ?Sympathy and sincere love were visible on Anna?s face? (80). In the end, Anna is able to achieve a, ?full reconciliation? (87) between Dolly and Stiva. Through her sincerity and consideration, Anna is able to comfort Dolly and reconcile her with Stiva, which endears her further to the reader. Anna?s beauty, compassion and controlled demeanor cause her to captivate other characters in the novel as well as the reader.
By the end of the book, Anna has become a completely different person: selfish, jealous, needy, and at times almost repulsive. The attraction everyone has for Anna at the start of the novel recedes, for everything that was once attractive about her is lost. Her beauty begins to fade and she becomes fearful of losing it completely, even interpreting, ?[Vronsky?s] desire to have children . . . as proof he did not prize her beauty?. (845). Anna loses her self-reliance and becomes dependant on Vronsky, which gives rise to intense bouts of possession and jealously. At one point she screams at him, ?All I can want is that you should not desert me, as you think of doing.?(841). At another time she accuses him saying, ?You don?t love me; you love someone else?(842).
Worst of all, Anna loses her poise and has become adversarial to a fault, fighting with Vronsky over everything, even imagined things, thinking, ?All the cruelest words that a brutal man could say [Vronsky] said to her there in her imagination, and she could not forgive him for them, as though he had actually said them? (848). Anna even stoops so low as to say things to purposefully hurt Vronsky. She tells him, ?A heartless woman, whether she?s?your mother or anyone else, is of no consequence to me, and I would not consent to know her? (845). In the end Anna she feels that, ?The one thing that mattered was punishing him?(849). Some psychotherapists, in the tradition of R. Alvarez, call suicide the ultimate act of aggression, in which a person directs their anger towards outward situations inward. The way in which Anna kills herself certainly fits this theory, for in her suicide she succeeds in punishing Vronsky. By the end of the novel, Anna has fallen into a state of dependence on one hand and hostility on the other, alienating herself from the other characters, and leaving the reader struggling to understand her transformation.
Anna remains an appealing character to the reader, because of her lucid flashes of self-recognition and self-loathing. These episodes both frighten by sharpening the contrast between what was and what is, and elicit sympathy by reminding the reader of what they once found so attractive in Anna and Anna?s inability to change her situation. Anna clearly sees how she antagonizes Vronsky and, ?For an instant she [has] a clear vision of what she [is] doing . . . but even though she [knows] it [is] her own ruin, she [can] not restrain herself, [can] not keep herself from proving to him that he [is] wrong, [can] not give way to him? (840). One of the most repugnant characteristics that Anna has acquired is her need to fight, and here it is obvious that even she recognizes the wretchedness of this trait.
Finally, for an instant Anna sees to the heart of it all, musing to herself, ?My love keeps growing more passionate and selfish, while his is dying and that?s why we?re drifting apart . . . I rouse aversion in him, and he rouses fury in me, and it cannot be different. Don?t I know . . . that he won?t desert me! I know all that, but it makes it no easier for me? (862). Anna knows that her suspicions are unfounded, and she knows that the situation cannot remain as it was, for both she and Vronsky have changed. And although Anna recognizes that things must change, her situation leaves her unable to act on this knowledge, and she is forced to slip back into the old patterns. It is this recognition of the situation, but inability to fix, and the way in which these flashes mimic Anna?s old behavior that keep the reader sympathizing with Anna until the end. By the end of the novel, Anna has changed completely, she has become selfish, antagonistic, and dependent, yet her inability to resolve her situation, and the remnants of her former self keep the reader?s sympathies.
Anna Karenina is a tragic novel. Although the book contains happiness and joy, and although it finishes on the high note of man?s innate goodness, in the end, it is a tragedy. It is a tragedy of constraints, a tragedy of what could have been, and above all, a tragedy of that which is destroyed unnecessarily. Anna is broken, and it is this shattering of her spirit that ultimately kills her. She remains true to herself, and in doing so violates the laws of society. Ultimately, the repercussions of this violation kill her. Society?s constant and unrelenting disapproval eventually breaks through Anna?s defenses. Anna dies because she lived in a society which would not allow her to follow the morals in her heart.

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