Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people’s lives. She had too great a longing to live herself.

Reading fiction is painful for Anna because she wishes she could be living the lives of the characters and experiencing everything they do. It becomes clear throughout the novel that Anna has had her chance at living freely taken from her. She was married too young to a much older man, and their union was one of status rather than love. She’s been confined to the monotonous life of a politician’s wife and socialite. Reading fiction exposes her to all the life experiences she can’t participate in due to her situation, and it frustrates her.

Whenever she was asked what she was thinking about, at whatever time of day, she could answer unerringly: about the same thing, her happiness and her unhappiness.

After beginning her affair with Vronsky, Anna is often caught between extremes of love and passion as well as despair and misery. Vronsky is both a source of incredible joy due to her love for him as well as a source of pain, as her affair has damaged her relationship with her son and her reputation in society. She is also horrified by how she’s treated her husband, although she often oscillates between guilt toward and disgust for Karenin, considering he is an obstacle that stands between her and pure happiness. There is no situation for Anna in which she can be purely happy—every choice she makes, whether it allows her to be with Vronsky or not, includes consequences and terrible difficulties.

The recollection of the damage inflicted on her husband aroused in her a feeling akin to repugnance, such as a drowning man might feel after shaking off a person clinging to him. That person had drowned. That had been bad, of course, but it had been the sole means of salvation, and it was better not to dwell on those terrible details.

Although Anna knows that her actions are hurtful to her husband, and she carries some guilt in that regard, it’s often difficult for her to truly empathize with or feel bad for Karenin. Their marriage was not one of love, and she felt trapped in it. Her husband’s presence in her life is miserable and off-putting to her because he represents her lack of freedom and is the main obstacle that stands in the way of her happiness. Anna’s love for Vronsky is so passionate that she feels she cannot live without him, and so rejecting Karenin is the only way she can live. Even if it means that she destroys him in the process, Anna feels that separating from her husband is a necessity for her survival.

I cannot imagine a situation where life would not be a torment, that we are all created in order to suffer, and that we all know this and are continually thinking up ways of deceiving ourselves.

Toward the end of her life, Anna believes that everyone is deeply unhappy, and that we are all desperately searching for distractions that will relieve us from the constant suffering of life. While Anna’s thoughts are poisoned by her own misery, she is not entirely wrong: many characters in Anna Karenina, from Karenin and Vronsky to Levin, suffer extensively, and do everything they can to justify and ignore their own destructive behavior. Levin, however, comes to a different conclusion from Anna. While both character’s arcs include existential crises, Levin’s ends with hope rather than death. That said, Levin possesses far more autonomy and opportunities than Anna, and therefore has more reason for hope.