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Friday, June 3, 2011

Stepan vs. Levin

Tolstoy sets up an interesting contrast through the characters Stepan and Levin.  Though friends, they live by opposing philosophies.  Stepan is a city man who works in an office and loves to be surrounded by people.  Levin, on the other hand, is a landowner of 8,000 acres in rural Russia who feels constrained by a city life of office buildings and close quarters.  When Levin visits Stepan at work, he shows contempt for Stepan's way of life because he sees no work being done.  Levin believes that true work involves physical labor that engages the hands.  He wants nothing to do with idleness.  Though very wealthy, Levin has had to work for everything that he has, unlike Stepan, whose wife comes from a wealthy and well-connected family and who is described as "lazy and mischievous" (Part 1, Ch. 5). 

Ultimately, these characterizations comment on Russian society.  Levin is conservative and a traditionalist that reacts negatively to the modern conventions in Russia.  He comes across as awkward, though well-intentioned, in his interaction with Kitty, who also embraces modern conventions.  He would prefer the traditional approach in lovemaking, addressing his proposal to the father, who favors Levin over Vronsky.  Nevertheless, Kitty makes her own choice, showing a preference for the latter.  By Vronsky's abandonment of Kitty, despite her choice, Tolstoy shows his own preference for the traditional methods. 

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