Basic Life Goals

Anna Karenina – Text 9 (3/1)


As a break from his intellectual life, Koznyshev, Levin’s half-brother, decides to visit Levin in the country. Levin feels awkward in the country with Koznyshev, because Koznyshev sees the country as a respite and haven from work, whereas Levin views it as the opposite. Also, Koznyshev idolizes the peasants as a pure but separate class, whereas Levin does not draw delineations between himself and the peasants: he sees everyone in the country as united toward the same common goal. Levin finds himself unable to say whether or not he loves the peasants: they’re simply people, not a group to love or hate, he tries to remain objective. Koznyshev sees Levin as good-hearted, but too prone to contradictions; Levin sees Koznyshev as an intellectual who lacks life force and heart. Koznyshev likes to idle and relax, but all Levin can think about is going back to work in the fields, and so he leaves to go and check on his workers.


While Levin loves Koznyshev, he feels uncomfortable because his half-brother’s perspective on country life does not align with his own. Koznyshev sees the country as an idyllic haven from the city and the peasants as simple, pure folk, whereas Levin sees the country as a place of labour and the peasants as humans, neither good nor bad as a class, but complex and all involved in the same work as he. Whilst Levin is neutral in his opinion of the peasants, Koznyshev describes them only in contrast to those he knows and dislikes. Though Koznyshev and Levin like each other, each looks down on the other as lacking in the essence of what makes a man most successful in life. One represents education and sophistication, whilst the other represents practicality and hard labour, as well as a good work ethic.

Besides defining the differences between the brothers, their arguments represent Levin's own struggle for meaning as he strives to discover the "key to life" first through science, then philosophy, finally concluding that the answer lies in living a "natural life," that is, seeking a universal identity of his soul and that of nature. Koznyshev's emptiness and sterility derive from his dependence on intellectual processes, while Levin's "salvation" derives from his emotional commitment. The exultant feeling of health and peace Levin achieves from mowing, prefigures his anti-intellectual solution to life's ultimate meaning.

Levin's "materialism" is based on his confidence in the importance of individual needs. Education, for instance, means nothing to him unless it furthers one's emotional development and deals with increasing one's awareness of basic life goals. For him, peasants do not require education since they understand the basic relation between an individual and his purpose in life. To Koznyshev, education is important for its own sake and must be universally applied so that everyone has intellectual tools with which to understand the complicated problems of an advanced society.