Anna Karenina Part 8, Chapter 11 Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Part 8, Chapter 11 Summary

The day Sergey Ivanovitch arrives is one of Levin’s worst days. It is the middle of the harvest, when every peasant in the village is working sacrificially for three or four weeks to accomplish the task. These actions happen all across Russia every year and they would be deemed heroic if the results of such intense labor were not so simple. Having lived in the country for years, Levin feeds on the quickened energy of the peasant workers.

This morning he stands in the cool granary and is overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of the peasants working, the swallows swooping and nesting, and the thrashing on the dusty threshing floor below him. All of this noise and motion causes Levin to wonder why he is standing here and why all of these creatures and machines are working so hard just to try to “show their zeal” for him. Today, tomorrow, or ten years from now, the old woman painfully raking up the fallen grain will be gone. So will the young woman who is skillfully shaking the ears from the husks and the laboring horse that is turning the wheel of the threshing machine. Levin, too, will be buried one day, and nothing will be left; he wonders why anything matters.

Levin checks his watch to determine how much grain had been threshed in an hour so he can set today’s goals for the peasants. He goes down to talk to Fyodor, the thresher, and tells him he is taking too much time. Fyodor, black with dust, shouts something back at him but keeps doing what Levin does not want him to do. Levin takes over the threshing himself until it is time for the peasants to eat their dinner, and then he joins Fyodor to talk with him while the man eats.

They talk about the land and how people look at it and work it differently. Some men only think of profit and filling their bellies; others, such as a peasant named Fokanitch, are righteous men who live for something else. The thresher says Fokanitch “lives for his soul” and does not forget God. Levin almost shouts the question: how does a man do that?

As the thresher begins to explain, Levin hurriedly excuses himself and rushes away, walking quickly toward his house. At those words, that one can live for his soul in truth and in God’s way, undefined but significant ideas begin to burst forth in Levin. It is as if they had been locked up and are now all striving toward one goal, whirling through his head and blinding him with their light.