Priding himself on his rational, intellectual nature, Karenin symbolizes the very bureaucracy which governs Russia from its capital seat in St. Petersburg. But institutionalized procedure provides no answer to basic life problems. Tolstoy makes this clear when Karenin faces not only his domestic difficulties, but must directly confront the life conditions of Russia’s “native tribes.” Tolstoy thus symbolizes Karenin on a personal as well as cultural plane.
Becoming humanized with the emotional release he experiences at Anna’s deathbed, Karenin has the opportunity to realize himself through love and Christian truths. But in order to adjust to the society that laughs at a cuckold, Karenin reverts to another form of superficial egoism. Perverting his humanizing insights to embrace a hypocritical mysticism, Karenin saves face but loses his personal significance. His new attachment to Countess Lydia lvanovna symbolizes his pathetic failure.