The Characters of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
By examining the character list, one immediately notices the value
Tolstoy places on character. With one hundred and forty named characters
and several other unnamed characters, Tolstoy places his central focus in
Anna Karenina on the characters. He uses their actions and behavior to
develop the plot and exemplify the major themes of the novel. Tolstoy
wishes to examine life as it really is. Tolstoy gives us a lifelike
representation in Anna Karenina by creating characters, both major and
minor, that contribute to the sense of realism.
The most striking feature of Tolstoy's minor characters is that
although they may only appear briefly, they still possess a sense of
lifelikeness. When a character is introduced, Tolstoy provides the reader
with details of the characters appearance and actions that give a sense of
realism. For example, the waiter that Stiva and Levin encounter at their
dinner, although a flat character is definitely presented in a manner which
allows him to have a sense of lifelikeness and fullness. From the speech
patterns the waiter uses to the description of the fit of his uniform, one
is presented with the details that allow the waiter to contribute to the
novel in means beyond simply the presence of a minor character. His
description and actions provide the novel with a sense of "real life".
Another way in which Tolstoy gives the minor character a sense of
life is by making them unpredictable. One sees this in the character of
Ryabinin. When initially discussed, the reader is told that upon
conclusion of business, Ryabinin will always say "positively and finally"
(p161). However upon conclusion of the sale of the land, Ryabinin does not
use his usual tag.
This tag would normally be characteristic of the flat, minor
character such as Ryabinin.
However, Tolstoy wishes to add to the lifelikeness of even his
minor characters and allows them to behave as one would expect only major,
round characters. The detail Tolstoy gives to all of his characters,
including the minor characters, contributes to the realism of both the
novel and the characters.
Perhaps the most realistic of Tolstoy's major characters is
Konstantin Levin. Throughout the novel, the reader witnesses the trials of
Levin's life and his response to them. Unlike Flaubert, Tolstoy reveals
Levin in a manner which gives him a sense of roundedness and lifelikeness.
On his quest for meaning in his life, Levin is essentially a realist, just
as Tolstoy wishes to be in writing Anna Karenina.
We first encounter Levin when he arrives in Moscow to propose to
Kitty Shtcherbatsky. When Kitty refuses his proposal, Levin has been
defeated in the...