Anna Karenina : Theme, Characters and Summary

Published on 07-Oct-2022

Theme Summary

The novel 'Anna Karenina,' by author Leo Tolstoy, is an incredible piece of classical literature that was published back in 1878. The novel was originally written in Russian within eight parts of the protagonist Ann Arkadyevna Karenina's life. The story is completely fictional that revolves around the themes of "marriage, family, friends, and Love," the most crucial aspect of one's life. With the additional major theme of "morality" and "hypocrisy" in an ancient Russian society, the story urges the audience to reflect on their own selves and their decisions leading up to their current state. Tolstoy takes the audience in a whirlwind of emotions with the demonstration of Anna Karenina's life, starting from her extramarital affair with Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky to their life in Italy, then back to an enslaved person-free Russia under an extremely scrutinizing society and ultimately to her death. 


Since the novel is based upon the orthodox Russian society with Russian characters, the characters' names are unusually longer than the modern ones. The Russians have three names. The first name is the person's own name, and the last name is a family name, while the middle name is a mix of the father's name with 'son' or 'daughter' added to the noun. 

  1. Anna Karenina- Mostly referred to as Anna. The novel's protagonist is a lady from a high society whose love life is at the center of the story.
  2. Alexey Alexandrovitch Karenin- Anna's husband who's emotionally distant from her. He has a high post as a government official in St. Petersburg. 
  3. Sergei Alexeytich Karenin- Anna and Alexandrovitch's son. 
  4. Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky- A wealthy man with great potential to be a high-ranked officer in the Russian army. He falls in love with Anna and ditches his plan to join the army. 
  5. Princess Katerina Alexandrovna Shtcherbatsky- Also known as Kitty. She's a princess who later marries Levin. 
  6. Konstantin Dmitrich Levin- Also known as Kostya. He is the autobiographical hero of the story. 
  7. Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky- Also known as Stiva. Anna's brother and a famous playboy. 
  8. Princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonsky - Also known as Dolly and Stiva's wife. She is a victim of Stiva's mistreatment and cheating for years throughout their marriage.


Plot Summary:            

The original novel was published in 8 parts, but the translated English versions usually take up two volumes to fit over 800 pages worth of writing. 

1st Part

The story opens in the Oblonsky's household in a state of panic when Stiva's wife, Dolly, discovers his affair with the former French Governess. Dolly confronts her husband, who doesn't think any wrong of his actions and instead excuses his infidelity on Dolly's withering beauty as he doesn't find her attractive anymore. Dolly, who's a good wife and a caring Mother of five children, is outraged by her husband's disloyalty and attempts to leave her husband's household. 

After three days, Stiva gets ready to go for his everyday schedule while Dolly packs her bags to leave her husband and move into her parent's house. Steve receives a telegram from his sister Anna that informs him of her arrival at his house. He is interrupted in his reading by two of his children, who he tends to affectionately, expressing himself as a good father to the readers. After sending his kids away with a treat of "Bon Bon," he sends them away and gets dressed up to leave for work. On his way out, he helps a Petitioner with good advice, yet again showcasing a nice image to the readers and the outsiders before he remembers his wife's departure and goes to see her instead. 

Dolly is about to leave alone, leaving her husband and kids behind, when she is approached by Stiva, who begs her not to go and asks for forgiveness for his disloyalty, which he describes as "one lapse of passion." Dolly seems clearly disgusted by her husband's mindset and pity, so after looking at her thin, unhealthy self compared to his broad fresh feature, she decides to leave. 

There is a clear representation of monarchy power in the story. Stevia is a high official in the governing board of Moscow and his brother-in-law Alexey is amongst those "who were born power." Konstantin Levin, whom Tolstoy has created depicting himself, enters the plot as a close friend of Stiva. Levin is in town to propose to Kitty Shtcherbatsky, Dolly's younger sister, whom he deems to be a perfect woman with higher stature than himself. Levine Meets Kitty at the "Zoological garden skating rink" where they both skate together, much to Levin's excitement. However, his happiness is cut short after he confesses to Kitty while she attempts to run away after being caught off guard due to the suddenness of the situation. She gives him a warm smile before departing away. 

Stiva Oblonsky arrives at the Shtcherbatsky house soon after to join his in-laws for dinner. Here, Levin feels detached from the ordeal of "sophistication" portrayed by Oblonsky and the Shtcherbatsky household with "servants everywhere, lavish dinner and wine selection." Levine feels inferior to others dining together, at which Stiva informs him of Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, a rich and handsome official from the high Counsel who's also courting after Kitty. As the night passed, Levin felt even more drained while Stiva professed about his marital troubles. 

Later, Kitty runs into Levin, and he confesses his love for her, but she politely refuses him as she prefers the wealthy Count over Levin. Levin was heartbroken and perceived the Count as the man who stole his love, albeit charming and articulate, when Vronsky arrived as well. On the other hand, Vronsky has no intention of marrying and settling down anytime soon though he likes to enjoy Kitty's "innocent beauty."

The next day Vronsky visits the train station to pick up his mother he meets, Stiva there, who's waiting for his sister on the same train. On Anna's arrival, she instantly catches Vronsky's attention with her beautiful features and "full figure she carries lightly." Vronsky doesn't make any inappropriate move since he knows she is married with a child, but he still tries to impress her by offering a handful of money to the widow whose husband died in an accident caused by the same train Anna and his mother arrived in. 

Anna visits Dolly and manages to pursue her to forgive her brother. Kitty falls in love with Anna's cheerful personality with mature mindset as they talk about the Count. However, Kitty is faced with a dilemma soon enough when she finds Vronsky and Anna dancing together with an unavoidable spark that she registered as their mutual attraction to each other. Kitty's world tumbled upon her, but she couldn't do anything else in the crowd but watched with a hesitant smile. 

The next day, the story rotates back to Levin, who leaves the Shtcherbatskys and goes back to his broders lodging. Here Levin contemplates his earlier decision to pursue a happy life through marriage as he observes his brother, Nicolai, and his sister-in-law, Marya, 's poor living conditions. He decides to go back to his estate after sharing a heartfelt goodbye with Marya and reminding her to write to him about his brother's health. Next, the audience gets an insight into Levin's actual self with the representation of his humble house. The house means everything to him since his parents lived happily married there, and his brothers grew up under a warm and affectionate roof. Here Levin is in his element and feels less sad as he enjoys his simple life in contrast to the lavish Shtcherbatsky house.

Back in Moscow, Anna pack to leave Moscow sooner than intended as she figures out Kitty's discomfort regarding her interaction with Vronsky. She bids Dolly goodbye, who hugs her, and Anna departs from Moscow. She was excited to be back to her dear eight-year-old son and her former daily life with her husband. But at the next train station, she meets Vronsky, who admits to having followed her. Vronsky expresses his attraction to Anna, but she turns him down and gets back on the train to prepare for a restless journey. 

Arriving home, Ann is delighted to have her son back, but her happiness deems down when her husband, sdkwejf, can't pay much attention to her during dinner. Later around half past 9, Alexey arrives back home, and Anna finally gets to chat with her husband about her journey to Moscow and her brother's marital life. Alexey criticizes Stiva's disloyal behavior that makes Anna perceive her man in a righteous light. In Petersburg, the readers see Vronsky in a more casual setting as he returns to his apartment and enjoys his time with his tipsy friends. He then puts on his uniform to report to the royal regiment before calling his cousin Princess Betsy Tverskoy, who's related to Anna by marriage. He could play as the ticket to his visit to Anna. 





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