Monday, April 14, 2014

Lie To Me

Today's class discussion on Seryozha and the chapters in Part V when we see his perspective have made me think about each character's relationship with reality and the role that delusion plays in the novel. Even though Seryozha should be old enough to understand the concept of death, he naively believes that neither he himself nor anyone he loves can die. This idea of youthful exceptionalism and the idea that human and societal laws do not apply to oneself is also present in Vronsky, who initially upon his return to Petersburg with Anna expects that society will welcome the couple as they had before. Anna herself buys into this delusion, and her refusal to examine her position as a compromised woman in high society results in the fiasco at the opera. Karenin only associates with people who reinforce his beliefs and idea of reality (Lydia). Although it is evident to everyone else that his career is over because of his wife's scandalous behavior, he believes he is doing the best and most meaningful work in his life. 

Levin, our "searching" character, is perhaps most involved in the quest to live deliberately but even he is not completely immune to delusion; he tormented himself unnecessarily for years after Kitty refused him because he irrationally concluded that she would and could never love him. He also has a complex towards the whole affair of his brother, and how he thought Kitty would be damaged by associating with Marya and Nikolai. Interestingly, I think Stiva, despite his frivolity, is not as deluded as other characters. Do you have to be a frivolous person to live successfully in a frivolous society? Do you think that a certain character's delusions are detrimental to him/herself or are they necessary?


  1. While I agree Stiva fits in the best in the frivolous society, he is also somewhat deluded about his own family's money troubles. He too does have worries, but spends much less time than the other characters worrying about and resolving them. I think Tolstoy, in his idyllic portrayal of Levin's country life (even more idealized when the Scherbatskys are not taking over), emphasizes that the frivolous society is not necessary at all, let alone delusions in such a society. However, the country is such a small part of the novel, and Tolstoy does explore what kind of attitude is necessary to thrive in frivolous society. I don't believe these delusions are detrimental, but rather that they are necessary. I view these delusions as coping mechanisms in an aristocratic society that is essentially astronomically bored and thus succumbs to depravity and superficiality.

    1. Hanna, I completely agree with your analysis of country life vs. society life and the necessity of delusion in society in order to mask its unfulfilling nature. Tolstoy's view of the country is definitely pure and idealized;the overwhelming majority of Tolstoyan characters who are at home in the country rather than in the city are superior in terms of intellect and emotional capacity. We see with Levin, though, that being removed from the country, he makes the same errors as frivolous men like Stiva: falling in love with another women, spending astronomically,etc. The change in his character seems rooted to location, and society brings out the worst in people, thus facilitating a world composed of delusion.