The Masks

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade November 2001

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The Masks Great literature is comprised of many different facets. There are conflicts, themes, motifs, symbols, and plot. Great literature also "transforms and intensifies ordinary language, deviates systematically from everyday speech". Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy accomplishes all of this and even more. Tolstoy uses all the facets of great literature to convey a very complex plot with intricate turns and interesting characters. Two of the most prominent and intriguing of these character are Anna Karenina and her husband Alexi Karenin. They are very different in many ways and it would be interesting to know the story before this novel as to how they met and fell in love, but one way in which they are similar is as the novel progresses each develops a "mask" toward each other and society. Wearing this mask has a more detrimental effect on Anna than it does on Karenin.

Anna is a strong woman, strong in mind and strong in beauty.

She is called upon by her brother's wife Dolly to help fix what has gone wrong with her marriage. She has enough strength to pull a broken marriage together, she manages to do so without hurting anyone's feelings. But as the novel progresses she begins to have marriage problems of her own. A young army officer Vronsky falls in love with her and in turn she falls in love with him. This brings on the onset of the mask, at first it is directed towards her husband. The mask is used to be an emotional barrier between Anna and Karenin to prevent either from being hurt. But as she confronts her husband about what has happened she lifts her "mask of gaiety". This lifting of the mask causes pain in both of the Karenin's. Further into the novel she becomes deathly ill, this was caused by the implementation of this mask in the first place. By not telling Karenin what had been going on in the first place, Anna accumulated an extreme amount of guilt. All this guilt is what causes her to become so severely ill. During this illness all she can think of is gaining forgiveness from her estranged husband. After forgiveness is granted she recovers from her near death experience but with a new out look on life.

Karenin is also strong, but only in mind. He is a prominent in St. Petersburg society as he is a government official. His mask is a different one than Anna's. While Anna's mask was more directed towards her husband, Karenin's was more directed towards society and making an appearance that everything is normal. He maintains that the "mask" should be worn to prevent a decline in his career or position in society. Although the mask brings him extreme pain in its prevention of the divorce of Anna, it does not cause a long term effect on him or his goals. He in fact is hurt more by a mask not being in place. When there is a mask Karenin can go about his life as if nothing has happened, and non of his opponents can find anything wrong with what he is doing, but as the "mask" is lifted he begins to falter in work and his major project becomes less important until he can restore order in his life. Without a mask Karenin would have crumbled towards the beginning of the novel instead of persevering.

Both Karenin and Anna implore a mask to try and help their situation but neither mask accomplishes this goal totally. Although both are hurt by its implementation, Anna is more severely damaged than Karenin. The This conflict helps transform Tolstoy's words into the great piece of literature known as Anna Karenina.