Anna Karenina

The Role of the Muzhik in Anna Karenina 12th Grade

In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, tracing the muzhik image throughout the novel provides an insight into Anna Karenina’s psyche and subconscious. The peasant is encountered at the time of Anna and Vronsky’s first meeting, a wretched peasant crushed to death by a backwards lurch of the train that brings Anna to Vronsky. Then, the peasant resurfaces on Anna’s train ride back to St. Petersburg as a figment of her hallucinations. Then, the peasant, presented as a dirty man stooped over a sack muttering ‘incomprehensible’ words in French, haunts the dreams of both Vronsky and Anna. The peasant appears three more times on the last day of Anna’s life right before she dies, pounding iron and muttering incomprehensibly. The recurring symbol of the muzhik is more than just a heavy-handed foreshadowing of Anna’s suicide: the muzhik communicates Anna’s subconscious to the reader, shows the damage that her sins (Vronsky) have done to her soul, and makes manifest the inevitability of fate.

The first image of the muzhik is at the train station where Anna met Vronsky. Vronsky observes “a peasant with a sack over his shoulder” (pg. 75) alight from the train. This image is shortly followed by the death of the wretched railway worker, crushed to death...

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