Trading Salvation for Personal Gratification in Anna Karenina
The epigraph of Anna Karenina: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," implies that judgment is a theological entitlement (Romans, 12:19). Tolstoy uses both social and moral issues to illustrate his characters' attitudes towards religion. For Oblonsky, Vronsky, and Karenin, religious values are secondary. Their lives are devoted to establishing a social position and monetary gain. Levin finds salvation and happiness because they learn to live for something beyond themselves and devote their lives to spreading the goodness of the Lord. Like Levin, Anna responds to her emotional instincts, but she is hindered by society's judgment. Anna distances herself from salvation by seeking only personal gratification in her love affair.
Oblonsky values his indulgent social life and his occupation above all else. He lies in direct contrast to Levin, who focuses not on the relentless pursuit of pleasure, but takes joy in his work and devotes himself to his loved ones. Stiva finds meaning in life only from his personal interactions, although he often ignores commitments to his wife and children. Religion is just another social institution, and he has no relationship with God: "Oblonsky could not bear standing through even a short church service without his feet hurting, and could not understand the point of all those terrible, highfalutin words about the other world when it would be very gay to live in this one too" (7).
Likewise, Vronsky is totally dedicated to his military career and his status as a high society player. He pursues Kitty with no intention of marrying her; he deserts her the moment he lays eyes on Anna. Vronsky seems to have little regard for religion and considers marriage a social institution, not a man and woman joined in the eyes of God. When he witnesses a man's death at the train station, he charitably gives the widow some money, but only to win favor in Anna's eyes. Vronsky is not emotionally strong enough to handle the depth of his relationship with Anna. When she is shunned by society and depends solely on his love, he turns away from her to distractions involving his career. On her deathbed, Anna tells Vronsky that Karenin is a saint, and he proves this true by forgiving both the lovers. Karenin's noble actions make Vronsky feel lower then ever. He cannot contend with this loss of honor because his life centers on social values distinguished only by their superficiality. He tries to commit suicide after Anna's near death that has highlighted his true feelings. Vronsky feels that his life is meaningless after this incident compromises his honor.
Karenin is spiritually awakened by his forgiveness of Anna and Vronsky, but religion remains on the surface of his soul. He throws himself zealously into Countess Lydia's religiosity and mysticism only to save him from the humiliation that results from his failed...