Anna Karenina Part 8, Chapter 8 Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Part 8, Chapter 8 Summary

At his brother’s deathbed, Levin faces the questions of life and death in a new light. His new convictions about such matters had developed between the ages of twenty and thirty-four, imperceptibly replacing what he considered his childish and youthful beliefs. As Nikolay lay dying, Levin was stricken with horror, but not at death itself. What frightened him was his lack of knowledge about life: from where it came, and why, how, and what it is.

His old beliefs on life and death had been replaced with such ideas as the decay of man, the indestructibility of matter, and evolution. These things and the ideas associated with them are all fine topics for intellectual discussion, but in terms of life, Levin now discovers, they yield nothing. Suddenly Levin feels as if he had exchanged a warm fur cloak for a muslin garment and was now caught in a frost; whatever his reason may have told him, he now knows he is as good as naked and will undoubtedly die a miserable death.

Though he continues to live his life, Levin never loses that sense of terror at his lack of knowledge. At first, the newness of marriage had completely crowded out these thoughts; but in Moscow, during his wife’s confinement, Levin had nothing to do and the unanswered question incessantly haunted his mind. If he does not accept the answers Christianity offers for the problems in his life, what answers will he accept? Though he has sorted through every conviction he possesses, he finds not one satisfactory answer to that question. He is like a man who shops for food in a toy shop.

Unconsciously, Levin searches for the answers in every philosophy book he reads, every conversation he has, and every man he meets. What he has discovered is that most of the men his age and in his circle have, like him, replaced their childhood beliefs with the same new convictions but are perfectly satisfied and serene. So now, in addition to these questions, Levin is tortured by others. He wonders if these men are sincere or if they understand the answers science...

(The entire section is 534 words.)