Anna Karenina: Theme Analysis
With its first sentence, All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Anna Karenina introduces the themes of marriage, love and family life. The novel follows three families, the Oblonskys, the Karenins and the Levins. Oblonsky has many affairs which he does not feel guilty about but which upset Dolly. With Oblonsky's example, the reader can see that it is more acceptable for men to be unfaithful in marriage than women. Oblonsky is respected in Society despite his affairs. For women, however, infidelity is not acceptable. Anna is shunned from Society when she openly leaves her husband for Vronsky. She is not happy with Karenin after she meets Vronsky, but it turns out that she is not happy in her relationship with Vronsky either. Vronsky is still accepted in Society, and this makes Anna's position even harder on her. The third family is made up of Kitty and Levin. Although they have a rough start before and right after their wedding, they seem to be the happiest of the three families.
Moral and religious themes also run through the novel. Karenin is quite concerned with religion when thinking of how best to deal with Anna's infidelity and the possibility of divorce. This becomes even truer after he gets closer to the Countess Lydia, as she encourages him to become even more serious about his beliefs and moral system. Anna has many moral conflicts after she begins her affair with Vronsky, although she tries not to think about them. Karenin's religiousness and generosity make her feel even worse. Levin is another character through which the religious theme can be followed. He is agnostic in the beginning of the novel and goes through a serious transformation by the end, when he has an epiphany through which he finds faith and the meaning in life, which is to live for God. The theme can also be explored through Varenka, as she is presented as an example of goodness, as she works to help the ill and shows no pride.
The novel also revolves much around Class and Society. We see the importance of Society in how desperate Anna becomes when she is deprived of it. There are also different groups within Society, some considered higher than others, such as that of Lisa Merkalova and the group that visits Betsy with her. Many of the discussions Levin takes part in revolve around the status and problems of the lower classes or the peasants. He tries to revolutionize how agriculture is thought of in relation to the laborers, and there are also discussions about educating and helping the peasants and Levin's obligation as a member of the aristocracy to improve conditions.
Also surrounding Levin and dealing with class is his concern about the impoverishment of the nobility. He believes in the separation of the classes, and is concerned about the nobility keeping their status and wealth. This can especially be seen in the scenes where Oblonsky and Levin argue about the sale of Dolly's forest, as Levin thinks that Oblonsky is selling it for too little. He believes that Oblonsky will regret it when he does not have enough money later, and indeed Oblonsky does run into much debt in the novel. He then gets a position that will pay him much for doing little. It seems that there are many such jobs that pay more than necessary and are reserved for people with many friends.
Yet another theme of the novel is that of city versus country living. From the very beginning the differences between Oblonsky, who lives in Moscow, and Levin, who lives in the country, can be seen. These differences revolve around work, the meaning of work, the meaning of life and marriage. Although one cannot draw conclusions about every character based on where they live (especially since some move from place to place), there are numerous instances of the comparison between city and country living that make it an important theme of the novel.
Death is another theme running throughout the novel. This theme can be explored through the death of Nicholas, Levin's concern about death, the attempted suicide of Vronsky, the suicide of Anna and other events, as well as the character's reactions to these events.