In Anna Karenina, what is Tolstoy's attitude toward Anna and other women, and does Anna have any redeeeming attributes?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story of Anna Karenina takes place in a 19th century Russian patriarchal society in which men are dominant, and females are seen as weak.  Tolstoy punishes Anna throughout the novel. First, he gives her manly attributes such as her bawdy treatment Karenin, and her tendency to go on horseback as a point of dislike.

Then, he punishes her psychologically with her disillusionment with life, and her lack of passion in marriage.

Additionally, he kicks her out her world with her destitution from society, the way she was shun by friends and family. After that, he places her in a very bad place with her desolation after the affair, the removal of her children and, the end of the passion in her affair.

In the end, not enough satisfied with al the stuff he puts her through, he kills her off in a cruel and semi sadistic suicide. Not once, but twice we taste the death of Anna, first when she throws herself on the rails, and then when she gets hit.

This tells us one thing: Either Tolstoy detested Anna or reflected his disdain about women in Anna's character.

Does she have redeeming characters? Very little. We are not given many opportunities to connect with her past as an unloved woman, nor do we get any chances to like her thoroughly before another calamity happens as a result of her behavior.

These characteristics are also shared by the rest of the females, whom shun, suffer, and are given as much lack of reader connection as Anna herself.

ivana | Student

I would suggest reading Memoirs of Tolstoy's son as well as Tolstoy's letters about his novel and the character of Anna Karenina to gain more insight into Tolstoy's attitude towards women.( I always suspected that the intimate knowledge about emotional world of women was drawn on real life characters and reading the memoirs of Tolstoy's son confirmed this.) Vladimir Nabukov also wrote a very good critical research on female characters in Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina to condemn the hypocritical Russian society. Despite what he previously had planned Tolstoy admitted in one of his letters that he had fallen in love with Anna. Anna is a victim betrayed by hypocrisy of society and her lover Vronsky. Anna has many positive qualities, she is a loving mother and  her only sin is that she cannot live in a loveless marriage. Had she chosen to have an affair while still being married the society would not condemn her. In fact, it is her honesty that gets her in trouble.

Throughout the novel Tolstoy reveals much of the inner world of women. Sometimes he shows their strengths sometimes their weaknesses and this is also typical of realism. I think there is much warmth and care in Tolstoy's developing of female characters especially in his portrayal of Dolly, Kitty and Anna.

thewanderlust878 | Student

I believe that Tolstoy feels that women were being treated incorrectly at the time he wrote this book. He puts most of his main characters as women, which allows him to go more in depth with their way of thinking and their attitude towards how society is treating them. I also believe that Anna has many positive attributes, including being a very protective and good mother, along with being a kind and gentle woman who is a very good listener and can help almost anyone with any problem they may have.