Constantine Levin, an opinionated rural landowner, starts out the novel traveling to Moscow to propose to Kitty Shcherbatsky. He's troubled because he wants to change Russia's agricultural system and because he wants to get married.
At the ball when Count Vronsky first makes his interest in Anna obvious, Levin's off to the side proposing to Kitty. Kitty turns him down because she has her eye on Vronsky (even though Vronsky's not looking back at her any more).
Levin goes back to his country estate to nurse his hurt feelings and engage once more in his agricultural reforms.
Levin is still trying to get over Kitty when Oblonsky (Kitty's brother-in-law) goes to visit Levin. He breaks the news to Levin that Kitty has been ill after getting tossed aside by Vronsky. She is currently recuperating at a German spa, where she has met Levin's ailing brother, Nicholas.
Levin's half-brother Koznyshev goes to visit Levin for the summer. The two engage in a series of intellectual discussions about the role of the nobleman in reforming Russia's agricultural and economic systems.
Dolly, Kitty's older sister and Oblonsky's wife, visits Levin's estate, and Dolly suggests that he propose to Kitty again. Levin is angry at Dolly for getting his hopes up.
Levin throws himself into farm work on his own estate instead of pursuing his brother's abstract reforms.
Levin meets up with Kitty again and proposes to her. This time, Kitty agrees. The two are so united that they can communicate with one another without using words.
Levin marries Kitty.
Levin soon discovers that marriage, even between two people who love each other, is not perfect. They fight all the time, and Levin still feels unsatisfied with his working life.
Kitty and Levin go to Levin's brother's bedside to nurse Nicholas through his last days. Levin is humbled and shamed by the fact that Kitty is so much more effective at taking care of his brother than Levin himself is.
Kitty tells Levin that she's pregnant.
During the summer, when many of their friends and acquaintances have come to stay with Kitty and Levin, one guy named Veslovsky flirts a lot with Kitty. Levin makes Veslovsky leave because of his disrespectful treatment of Levin's wife.
Levin has become a lot more easy-going with marriage. He attends a provincial election even though he doesn't care too much about it. There, he meets Vronsky and all of his friends.
As Kitty's delivery date approaches, she and Levin relocate to Moscow (where Anna and Vronsky are also now living).
Levin falls into gambling and idle living once he's away from the countryside. He meets Anna one evening and falls for her immediately.
However, once Kitty gives birth, Levin is so moved by her beauty and faith that he feels ashamed of his behavior.
He looks at little Dmitri, his son, and is struck by the child's weakness. Levin's not all that impressed with his own kid.
Koznyshev comes to visit Levin in the countryside, where they've relocated, to talk to him about the Serbian cause. Levin has established himself as a landlord on his estate, and has discovered that he's better at managing his own estate than he ever was at reforming Russian agriculture.
After a religious epiphany with an old peasant, Levin suddenly realizes that his wife and son are, in fact, the center of his world. He resolves to live a good life on his own estate. All of his existential angst has passed away, and he's content with his current situation.