Anna Karenina Summary Sample

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Anna Karenina Summary Sample on the Epigraph Meaning

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What Is the Epigraph Meaning for Understanding the Anna Karenina Novel Idea?


The epigraph to the well-known novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy sounds as follows: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” The critics of the book widely discussed its idea and significance. However, the point is not only that an adequate perception of the basic ideas of this work is impossible without an understanding of the meaning of the epigraph. The very content of the epigraph is somewhat mysterious and adjusts itself to several interpretations simultaneously. Nevertheless, despite the possibility of a narrow and broader interpretation, the very idea of the epigraph violates many problems of the social relations of society in which events unfold, as well as the fundamental aspects of human life and the right to choose.

Controversy of the Epigraph

First of all, the epigraph provokes controversy since the author repeatedly reviewed the drafts of the novel and only at the end approved the final version in which this epigraph was present (Fort 12). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the author has invested a special meaning in it. Indeed, the epigraph is the most controversial since Tolstoy does not mention where he took it, although for every concurrent reader the knowledge of the quotation was self-evident. Most believe that it is from the “Epistle to the Romans,” and the meaning of it advice avoiding revenge and also carries the meaning of forgiveness and Christian love, even towards enemies (Rom. 12.19). Therefore, it is possible to assume that the world is organized correctly, on reasonable grounds, and each will receive what he or she deserves regardless of efforts.

Nevertheless, there were also authors convinced that the epigraph refers not to the Gospel, but to the works of Schopenhauer because Tolstoy once was fond of this thinker. Therefore, critics assume that Tolstoy considered pessimistic views on life and understanding of life itself as evil and suffering (Avalon 5). In particular, it is possible to refer Schopenhauer’s pronouncements on punishment that no person is authorized to act as a purely moral judge. Therefore, despite the variants of the interpretations, it remains common that Tolstoy introduced the idea that a person cannot judge anyone, only God has the right to claim justice that people deserve.

Tolstoy’s Attitude to Characters

Furthermore, in his novel, Tolstoy treat the characters as the Old Testament God. The author loves characters not for their virtues, but for the fullness of living life, for the strength of dedication, for the ability to act contrary to reason, benefit, or common sense. Take what you want and pay for it – this is probably the meaning of the novel. Tolstoy does not condemn Anna. If she had refused to love, her life would have been meaningless. Nor does he condemn Vronsky, whom only the tragic love and death of the beloved made a man in the full sense of the word. The author does not give any hope to Levin, does not guarantee Kitty’s family happiness, leaves Dolly and Stiva with very dubious prospects. All this suggests that a person is only free to give meaning to his or her life, so it is only a question of personal choice and personal responsibility. The final of the novel says: “my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it” (Tolstoy and Garnett 1759).

Connection of Epigraph to the Main Idea of Novel

Consequently, people are free to invest any meaning in life, and no one will constitute that sense for them. However, everyone only needs to remember that we will have to answer for this choice, and not as we think, but as the Higher Power decides, which is beyond our control. Someone will call it God, someone will call it life. Accordingly, the main idea of ​​the novel is that people are free and even obliged to choose. Otherwise, the life will remain meaningless; and the retribution for this choice will be carried out not according to ours, but according to higher laws.

The epigraph concentrates in itself and the socially accusatory pathos. Thus, the so-called high society does not have the right to condemn Anna. According to Tolstoy’s standards, she was right, for she lived with full dedication and paid in full measure. Levin was right as well, and although he considered confused and complicated way, it was complete and honest. All in all, people do not have the power to judge Tolstoy’s heroes, since there is an author’s court over them, equal to God’s. Thus, everyone who chooses and pays is acquitted for this author’s court. In turn, all those who are cowards and hypocritical like Karenin and Countess Lidia Ivanovna are punished. This is a cruel moral, but there is no another one either in the novel nor life.


Thus, Tolstoy’s novel forces every reader to rethink the meaning of life, as well as the nature of the choice and its role. In turn, the epigraph reveals that one should not condemn other people because there are God’s will and life circumstances which will make sure that each person will receive what he or she deserved.

Works Cited

Avalon, Jillian. “”Life And Death: Spiritual Philosophy In Anna Karenina”.” Claremont McKenna College. N.p., 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.
Fort, Christopher. “The Epigraph To Anna Karenina And Levin.” Tolstoy Studies Journal 23 (2011): 12. Web. 20 Sept. 2017.
The English Standard Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with Apocrypha, Oxford UP, 2009.
Tolstoy, Leo, and Constance Garnett. Anna Karenina. Planet PDF. Print.