Anna Karenina

Tolstoy's Ideal Woman in Anna Karenina 12th Grade

“All happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (1.1.1)

In this famed first sentence of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy alludes to the two kinds of familial happiness, almost comically simplifying the idea of ‘family’. However, this formula cannot be tested because the families in Anna Karenina are not happy families, and the reader is treated to people nearly broken by adultery and scandal. Tolstoy presents the Oblonskys’ plight as lighter because the adulterer is male, suggesting that the success of a family depends on the wife’s immobility, not the husband’s. Though Stiva, Vronsky, and Karenin divide their time between their home and their amusements, women (like Dolly) must make home the focal point of their lives. However, Tolstoy emphasizes Anna Karenina’s animation when he introduces her in Chapter 18, and links her constant motion to her sexuality and independence outside the home. Tracing Tolstoy’s descriptions of Dolly Oblonsky and Anna Karenina throughout the novel reveals Tolstoy’s ‘ideal’ woman: one who unconditionally accepts both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of her role as a mother and wife.

Anna Karenina begins with infidelity. Stepan Oblonsky enters his home to find, “his Dolly,...

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