Regaining Control in Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina features significant clusters of scenes, all of which describe notable moments in the development of the novel's major figures. One of the most important clusters is when Anna travels to see Vronsky. On her way her perceptions change; she throws her "searchlight" upon herself. Arriving at the next station she sees the rails and knows what must be done.
Anna has had control over her own life taken away from her, due to the societal limitations on her choices as a woman. She becomes resentful of the society she lives in, and turns that frustration on the unsympathetic Vronsky, who retains his own freedom as well as control over her own happiness. She is too proud and passionate to live in subordination, as Dolly Oblonsky does. Anna cannot conceive of going on indefinitely as she has been, and at the same time can take no pleasure from contemplation of her past, or her future, which holds no prospect of change. Feeling trapped and untrue to her own unwanted desires, she begins to see the entire world as a wretched place populated by miserable, entrapped individuals just like herself. Through death alone, she feels she can secure a place in Vronsky's heart. Death is also the only decision that she is free to carry out on her own.
The place that Anna occupies is like that of a child, making up tasks for herself to fill the time, while others make the decisions that affect her life. Anna tries to interest herself with educating the English girl, writing a children's book, but these are all distractions from the fact that she has nowhere to go. Oblonsky and Karenin meet to try to settle the question of Anna's future, without inviting Anna to plead for herself or otherwise affect Karenin's choice. Oblonsky observes that Anna is "as wretched as only a woman can be." (757)
She does want to break out of the model of feminine behavior, as her interest in architecture demonstrates. Anna is not willing to accept a position of meekness, as Dolly does. She is, in her position, expected to stay at home while Vronsky has the freedom of an unmarried man. With the advantage of marriage, Vronsky would be forced to treat her as a wife, as a respectable woman, but as it is, he does not have to. He instead treats her as a mistress -- valuable when entertaining, but potentially a real drag on one's social life. Vronsky believes in the submissive role of women, and his opposition to their having the liberty that he enjoys makes Anna crazy. Vronsky disapproves of high schools for girls and Anna sees this as a slight toward her own occupations (773). Tolstoy plays dumb by saying that this issue "was not close to the heart of either," but in fact, breaking the woman's traditional place what Anna has spent the past few years doing. If Anna had her own education she would not be trapped with bound hands in her present position.
After Anna has swallowed her own opinion for the sake of preserving harmony,...