Anna, the other part of Tolstoy’s dual scheme, symbolizes the effects of an urban environment on Tolstoy’s “natural man.” Like Levin, Anna seeks a personal resolution between spontaneous, unreflecting life and the claims of reason and moral law. Being a woman, however, whose human destiny is to raise children and be mistress of her household, Anna is more victimized by culture and society than her male counterpart and is more sensitive to the social restrictions on her quest for personal meaning. Because she is claimed primarily by her position in an advanced — therefore corrupt — society, Anna is doomed at the outset.
Responding only to her inner emotions, she is the most natural character of all the urban noblemen in the novel. The strength of her inner nature enables Anna to cast off from conventional society and seek love as her basic definition.
Tolstoy makes it obvious that Anna’s marriage will never satisfy her passionate nature. Karenin, an outstanding example of an individual dehumanized by sophisticated, rational society, is the first one Anna must reject. She must seek the love of a freer, yet honorable, individual. Presenting her with a military man for a lover, Tolstoy develops Anna’s tragedy with a cruel logical consistency.
Vronsky’s brilliant promise in his career implies he has honor, daring, and a sense of life and death any good soldier requires. Opposed to these good qualities is his limited imagination, the military virtues of sacrificing individuality for a sense of corpsmanship, a frivolous attitude toward women, and his rigid code of behavior according to his military standards of “honor” and “prestige.” We see the same values that attract Anna to Vronsky provide limitations which doom their liaison to failure. Tolstoy seems to say that Anna’s search for love is hopeless: Neither Karenin nor Vronsky have the inner power to respond to her emotional intensity. Had Anna fallen in love with Levin, a possibility Tolstoy presents in Part 7, she would have affirmed her love commitment through her children and husband in Levin’s country environment.
The specific machinery of Anna’s downfall derives from Tolstoy’s basic moral philosophy: Unselfish seeking of goodness obtains a state of grace, whereas a predatory self-assertion results in damnation. We see how Anna becomes cruel, vindictive, and self-destroying as she exists according to her single goal — to maintain her love relationship. This becomes harder to maintain as Anna loses, one by one, the outside values of the social order which structure not only her existence, but Vronsky’s as well. Shut off from her son, her friends, her protective status, Anna’s love provides her with the only source of vitality. Under the pressure to live only through her love, she denies her femininity as the vehicle of bearing children; her charms have become the singular weapon of the witch. Thus we see why Vronsky shrinks from her heightened beauty: It is to her witchlike metamorphosis that Vronsky responds so coldly, driving Anna, in her turn, to a state of jealous desperation which further repels him.
Tolstoy shows how Anna, seeking self-gratification in love, drives herself from salvation, away from God, toward satanism and self-destruction. Unlike Levin who had discovered love of God, Anna’s search concludes at the dead end of hate, and death is her only recourse.