Progress over time Tolstoy also displays more severe consequences resulting from immoral actions. Tolstoy shows his understanding of how desire and human nature go hand in hand based on 3 characters, Stiva, Anna, and Vronksy. Stiva’s infidelity is the epitome of the relationship between desire and human nature. Rather than accepting fault for his affair he constantly asks his wife what he’d done wrong and acts ignorant to his actions (Tolstoy 11). Tolstoy shows this relationship further in the way he describes the way Anna yearns for Vronsky, while Vronsky covets Anna,while leading up to the affair.
Tolstoy narrows this relationship down to specific details between the characters, from how they constantly think about each other before the affair, to how they prioritize their desires before thinking of others. Anna attempted to control her desires initially by asking Vronsky to not pursue her (Tolstoy 102) similarly to how Olenin’s attempt to put his old life in Moscow behind him, Anna attempts to separate herself from her desires by keeping Vronsky away.
However, just as Tolstoy showed the relationship between desire and human nature in the Cossacks, so he does in Anna Karenina, specifically when Vronsky disobeys and continuously searches her out. Anna eventually falls victim to her thoughts of him and the quenching of her thirst for Vronsky (Tolstoy 149). Just as the strengthening relationship between human nature and desire, Tolstoy shows the increase in severity consequences of immoral act. Her decision to have an affair and continue a relationship even after Karenin instructs her to end it (Tolstoy 353) is ultimately what affects many characters in negative ways.
She allows her selfish infatuation with another man to become her first priority similar to how Olenin put Maryanka first, however in comparison to Olenin’s penance, her punishment is much more severe. Anna’s desire for Vronsky destroyed her relationship with her son and any future at having a relationship with him after Karenin takes him away. She allowed her desire destroy the marriage she had with Karenin and as a result she became a social outcast, alienating herself from society because she cannot marry vronsky being divorced, and no longer having access to certain friends or family of hers as well as Vronsky (Tolstoy 368).
In the Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy exemplifies how the desires of secondary characters affect the choices of the protagonist and again displays another increase in the severity of consequences characters suffer for their immoral behavior. In the novel, Pozdnyshev is riding on a train and overhears passengers discussing the right to marry someone for love over arranged marriages. He makes his way into the conversation and begins the novel begins to give us a look into Pozdnyshev’s past with is spouse (Tolstoy 142 ).
According to the text, he had been married to his wife for only a few years and already had five children with her. After a certain amount of time he began to despise her because she was instructed by her doctors to use contraceptives (Tolstoy 168). He explains that the marriage was difficult and that their children became a burden since they changed the lives of he and his wife permanently. He discusses how the romantic spark between his wife and himself had faded early, if it had ever existed and that the presence of children had made them even more jaded towards one another (Tolstoy 163).
They constantly fought and Pozdnyshev began to see his wife in a very negative light, particularly after she was instructed by their doctor to no longer breast feed, which he saw as her choice rather than medical instruction (Tolstoy 161). Pozdnyshev was jealous of men who are welcomed into their homes and enjoy their personal and after examining behavior towards the children and himself, Pozdnyshev surmises that his wife may be having an affair (Tolstoy 170). Eventually his wife takes a liking to the violinist, Troukhatchevsky, who plays the the Kreutzer Sonata with her while she plays the piano.
Pozdnyshev begins thinking extremely paranoid and believes that music has the ability to change one’s outlook and views on their lives as well as their priority in relation to what they originally valued, he believes is has a controlling power that cannot be accounted for (Tolstoy 174).. The jealousy Pozdnyshev feels has to do with the affection he wants from his wife however he attributes her behavior to music and believes that the violinist’s music has the ability to control her (Tolstoy 176).
Tolstoy uses this anecdote to show the symbolism in the relationship between desire and human nature. Music is a part of human life and it draws and attracts us just as Pozdnyshev’s wife is attracted to the violinist’s music, Podznyshev believes she desires him and yet Podznyshev attributes this loss of his wife’s love and her attraction to the violinist to the hypnotic effects of music. Out of rage he leaves on a trip for several days and when he returns he finds his wife with the violinist.
Similarly to his previous works like The Cossacks and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy shows that immoral behavior has consequences in the Kreutzer Sonata as well. When Olenin fails, his punishment was to cut ties with friends and leave the Cossacks. When Anna failed, she lost her son, she lost her marriage and became a social outcast. When Pozdnyshev returns from his trip, and finds Troukhatchevsky and his wife together (Tolstoy 188) Pozdnyshev uses a knife and kills his wife for believing she had been unfaithful to him (Tolstoy 191).
It is not clear if Pozdnyshev’s wife truly had an affair because of how skewed his retelling is, however when using extra-textual reasoning we can assume she did not have the affair. According Pozdnyshev’s view she has, and is punished by the hand of her husband as a direct result of her unfaithful and immoral behavior. Tolstoy leaves the bible verse, Matthew 28 at the end of the text, which in short says that if we look at someone lustfully we have already committed adultery, and in some sense, justifying Pozdnyshev’s killing of his wife as her consequence.
Tolstoy’s use of the gospel verse, as the conclusion to The Kreutzer Sonata reflects the message he is attempting to project to his audience, that in essence, entertaining our desires already leads us to act on them. We know by his placement of this verse, and his selection of this biblical verse, that desire to commit adultery and to act upon our desires is human nature. Neither of the other two works mentioned here end with a verse like this, Tolstoy purposely placed this message at the end because he knows that it is in our nature to think about and act upon our desires, just as the writers of the gospel knew it two thousand years ago.
Tolstoy shows a chronological increase in his awareness desires and affairs being part of human nature as well as an increase in the severity of the consequences for acting upon these desires. He shows these gradual increases in time through his characters, how he describes their behavior or thoughts, how they suffer at the hands of their own demise, and what points or symbols he emphasizes to his audience. He provides his readers the opportunity to reflect upon his characters’ struggle with their desires and the consequences of their actions.
Their fall to desire and temptation provides us as Tolstoy’s audience, as well as the other characters, with lessons about responsibility, acceptance of our human nature, and prioritizing our morality before our desires. These lessons are intended to be a moral model of how we should live in order not let our base instincts supersede our humanity. Tolstoy implores us to critically asses the choices we make, the ideas we entertain, and the desires we pursuit in order to make certain that our intentions are morally justified and not merely for selfish gain or appeasement.