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Monday, June 20, 2011

Similar Tragedies

Pandemionium (1825) by John Martin
In each of the first two sections of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy describes a tragic episode.  The first involves an unnamed watchman being killed by a train while the other involves the death of a horse being ridden by Vronsky.  Though the events are dissimilar, there are unifying elements.  The following is a list that describes the similarities and the contrasts.

*Three characters appear in both scenes:  Vronsky, Anna and Vronsky's mother.  It may be that Tolstoy uses the two events to describe the changes in the relationship between Vronsky and Anna.

*Both scenes are preceded by declarations of love.  Levin proposes to Kitty and is rejected while Vronsky declares, upon learning that Anna is pregnant, that the time has come for Anna to forsake everything and go away with him.  Looking ahead in the novel, both attempts are successful to a point.

*Both scenes make a big deal of eye contact.  Vronsky and Anna briefly make eye contact at the train station, Anna innocently flashing a slight smile.  At the race, Vronsky deliberately avoids eye contact with Anna, as a show of guilt in a publicly known though not publicly accepted affair.

*"He felt himself the victor" (Part 1, Ch. 17):  The quote comes just after Vronsky learns that Kitty has rejected Levin, though Vronsky never had any intentions to marry Kitty.  Vronsky has a similar feeling after Anna consents to leave her husband.

*In both cases, Vronsky hurts the thing he (supposedly in the case of Kitty) loves.

*Both scenes feature a premonition of bad things to come.  Anna calls the death of the watchman "a bad omen" while Vronsky's horse trembles before the race.

*Both scenes detail mothers preoccupied with thoughts of their son.  Vronsky's mother and Anna discuss their sons on the train ride from Petersburg to Moscow.  At the race, Vronsky's mother expresses concern about the relationship in a letter before the race while Anna expresses sorrow at the possibility of leaving her son.

*Letters dealing with impropriety preceded both tragedies.  Anna goes to Moscow in response to a letter from her brother Stepan asking for her help in healing his relationship with his wife Dolly after Dolly discovers Stepan had been having an affair.  Before the race, Vronsky receives letters from his mother and brother expressing their disapproval of the relationship.

*Anna cries at the scene of both tragedies.  The first time, her emotions are stirred at the unfortunate loss of human life, but on the second occasion, Anna mistakenly believes that Vronsky, not the horse, has been injured and cries with relief that Vronsky is unhurt.

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