by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina Theme of Language and Communication
There is a romantic scene in Part 4, Chapter 13 of Anna Karenina when Kitty and Levin communicate without speaking. Using just the first letters of the words they wish to exchange, Kitty and Levin can still understand one another almost telepathically, by looking into one another's eyes. Compare this perfect understanding with Anna's constantly misdirected or ignored letters to Karenin (for a divorce), to Countess Lydia (when Anna wants to see Seryozha), and to Vronsky himself (when he stops wanting to come home to her). Anna can send out all the letters she pleases, but as Anna grows increasingly isolated socially, all of her efforts to communicate fail.
For Tolstoy, real communication happens between two people when they can look one another in the eye, as when Karenin comes to forgive Anna for her wrongdoing. Long-distance communication (especially by trains) increases the possibility for miscommunication, for the kinds of misunderstandings between people that finally drives Anna to her suicide. Communication is another way for Tolstoy subtly to comment on the isolation and confusion of modern life.
Questions About Language and Communication
- How many quarrels in Anna Karenina arise from miscommunication?
- Why are there so many times when characters send notes back and forth? Are notes to be trusted more than the spoken word? What about Kitty and Levin's game of writing out the first letters of the words they want to say to each other?
- Can Vronsky's words of love and tenderness be trusted? Why doesn't Anna trust them?
Chew on This
T he most trusted form of communication in Anna Karenina is body language.
In their crucial scene, Kitty and Levin's game of writing out the first letters of the words they want to say to each other shows that their love is beyond language.