Anna Karenina Part 5, Chapter 20 Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Part 5, Chapter 20 Summary

The next day Nikolay receives the sacrament and extreme unction; he prays with such desperate hope that it is awful for Levin to see. He understands that this will make Nikolay even bitterer about leaving this life. This sudden return to religion is not a legitimate one, inspired by his intellect; instead it is a temporary and desperate hope for recovery. As the rite is performed, Levin makes a familiar deathbed request that if God exists He should save them both.

After the ritual, Nikolay becomes suddenly much better. He seems strong and even has an appetite. Despite the fact that he seems so hopelessly ill he will never recover, Levin and Kitty are both happy in that first hour. The self-deception is short-lived when Nikolay is awakened by his familiar cough. The reality crushes all of their hopes, and even the memory of hopefulness is gone. When Kitty leaves the room, Nikolay tells Levin he performed the farce of hope for her sake.

That evening, Marya comes breathlessly to announce that Nikolay is dying. They run to his room, and he tells them he believes the end is near. After a silence, he tells Kitty to leave the room. Nikolay continues to say he feels that he is “setting off”; Levin sits next to him and they ponder what is happening. While Nikolay’s face begins to reflect what is becoming clearer and clearer to him, everything is still dark for Levin.

Nikolay says “Right!” and seems reassured by something; then he says “O Lord!” and sighs deeply. As Nikolay’s body slowly shuts down, Levin feels that if he exerts enough mental effort he can understand what it is that is right. He only thinks about everything that must be done once his brother dies. Strangely, he does not feel sorrow, loss, or pity. If he feels anything, Levin feels envious that the dying man now has knowledge which he cannot have. But Nikolay does not die. Every time Levin prepares to leave for a moment, Nikolay grasps his hand and asks him to stay.

The situation is unchanged at dawn and Levin withdraws to sleep. When he wakes, Nikolay is as...

(The entire section is 553 words.)