The Kreutzer Sonata Analysis
by Leo Tolstoy

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Russia. Tolstoy’s native land is the setting for all his fiction, which typically focuses on family problems. In his view, the human mind is the place where everything starts: love and hate, marriage and murder, and the family is a micro-unit of society, showing health or sickness of the whole body. This novel is Tolstoy’s “peep show”—attempt to analyze causes of failed marriages. The conflict between human physical needs (sex) and spiritual (moral) needs, created by the strict Christian upbringing in patriarchal Russia is further complicated by the inequality and bigotry in raising male and female children, therefore not preparing them for a successful marriage and family life together. The natural differences in male and female needs and roles are further complicated by the clash between new, modern ideas (of women’s liberation, among others) and the old societal mores, resulting in unhappy individuals and couples, psychological problems, neuroses, domestic violence, and murder.


Train. Tolstoy uses a train speeding across Russia metaphorically and symbolically to reflect his view of the Russian high society headed toward a fast moral and social disintegration brought by civilization from the West. Construction of the huge trans-Siberian railroad, a costly project, greatly diminished arable land and impoverished many landowners and peasants. For these reasons, Tolstoy treats trains as symbols of “unnatural” and destructive forces.

As Tolstoy’s protagonist, Pozdnyshev, travels on the train, he expresses Tolstoy’s ideas in great length and detail. Through the choice of passengers and their participation in the conversation, Tolstoy displays opinions of different segments of society: educated versus uneducated, modern versus traditional, male versus female. Tolstoy believes that peasants and women are closer to nature and land, by their role, therefore crucial for the health and well-being of the society. During the train ride, Pozdnyshev tells his life story: his “libertine” youth and premature sexual corruption, marriage based on the romantic love (lust), quickly turning into emptiness and boredom, ultimately escalating into obsessive hate and jealousy.

Polluted with debauchery and plagued by shame and guilt, Pozdnyshev’s mind develops a mental aberration fabricating ugly and hateful illusions leading to murder without a rational justification. The furious speed and urgency of the train powerfully (though subliminally) creates the atmosphere of a sexual, obsessive frenzy. The compartmental confinement, like a sick cell of a brain, obsessively focuses on the final, destructive end—murder.

Pozdnyshev’s mental state is similar to Anna Karenina’s. Tolstoy’s earlier novel Anna Karenina (1875-1877) uses train symbols six times to foreshadow violence and tragedy. Although Tolstoy’s favorite metaphor powerfully serves his artistic purpose, the composition of The Kreutzer Sonata (unlike Anna Karenina) is simplified and impoverished by the plot being told during the ride instead of shown in direct, life-simulating action. Tolstoy’s rich and character-revealing dialogues here are replaced by a didactic and less engaging monologue expressing the ideas that Tolstoy strongly represented.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayley, John. “What Is Art?” In Leo Tolstoy , edited by Harold...

(The entire section is 754 words.)