Adventures in Reading

Why does Anna kill herself?
September 3, 2007, 8:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

While WordPress has many interesting features, the one I check almost daily are my blog stats. This lists a variety of information but my favorite section lists search terms that lead weary internet travelers to Adventures in Reading. One such search was “why does Anna Karenina kill herself” and I am going to take a moment to consider this.

With limited knowledge of the period, the influences and on aristocratic woman’s lives (as well as  on exactly what Tolstoy was getting at) this is the conclusion I have arrived at: Anna had a decent life but was not a happy or even content person and ultimately killed herself after realizing her struggle for freedom was to no avail.

The audience firsts meets Anna when she arrives at the Oblonsky household to comfort Dolly. Dolly’s husband has had an affair with the children’s governess and Dolly is considering leaving her husband. Anna smooths this all over as a minor infracture in their marriage. Ultimately though Dolly is trapped. Specifically in the Oblonsky household money is limited though is spent easily on the husband’s part. Dolly has aged before her time as a result of numerous children that she is in charge of as well as the normal runnings of the household. (i.e. when Dolly locks herself in the room the servants are at odds and ends of what to do and it is certainly suggested that the children may not have been fed if not given specific instructions.)

If Dolly would leave she would have no where to go and a gaggle of children to care for. She is trapped in a life that defines her as a mother and a wife but not as an individual.

Anna’s story is little different but she meets a young soldier who if nothing else promises her passion. Anna and Vronsky have the affair and passion ensues but as the story unfolds it becomes apparent that passion is not enough. Now Anna’s role has been extended to mother, wife, and lover/mistress. This is well and good for a while but quickly the humanitarian or the saintly Anna image dissipates as a result of her affair (only something that would apply to a woman as it simply is not a consideration if a man has an affair). She eventually tells her husband of Vronsky and that she is pregnant and leaves Karenin’s house (her husband), loses her son, and moves in with Vronsky.

Anna does not want to divorce Karenin or marry Vronsky it seems and when I first read this I blanched. Would it not make things so much simpler? Of course she would still remain a fallen woman of sorts but at least she could leave her husband entirely and regain some sense of propriety according to the Russian social perspective. But Anna does not. Easily one can say Anna chooses this as she will entirely lose her son if she divorces her husband but I think she realizes that if she marries Vronsky it is all too easy for her to fall into the same trap as she did with Karenin. That is, the trap of an unhappy marriage in an unfulfilling lifestyle.
Towards the end of the novel Anna becomes depressed and increasingly unsure of her situation. While she threatens to kill herself to punish Vronsky I think in a moment of indecision Anna believes that her only escape from this situation of masculine oppression and control is through suicide. While a fleeting moment, she only realizes this decision is wrong after she has already thrown herself. Of course this leads to the question of why Anna does not return to her aunts or why she does not leave alone for Europe. But then I suppose neither of those options are solutions. It is just a new way to trap herself but in a different environment. I suppose a better question than why did Anna kill herself would be whether or not her death was a punishment?

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