Discussion and Activities by Episode
Prepare students to compare their own world with Tolstoy's by discussing or writing about the following:
- What is meant by social class? Do we live in a society with a strict class structure or a fluid one? Does the class we are born into determine where we will live, the work we will do, the person we will marry? (You may want to precede this discussion by distributing a survey which polls students on their ideas about class. The results of an anonymous survey can be enormously revealing and can spark interesting discussion.)
- Discuss the meaning of gender equality. You way wish to have students read a suffragette speech, such as Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?", to begin the discussion. Do men and women enjoy equal rights and equal opportunity in our society today? List any inequalities students cite. Review the list: Which remain in place because of laws? Which persist as a result of social custom?
In their "rewrite," the filmmakers added explicit scenes of passion. What do you think of their choice? Do these scenes make an important contribution to the story? Would the film be less effective without them? How does the change reflect a shift in sensibilities and expectations about art and sexual content? Why do you think Tolstoy insisted on leaving them out?
- Use four adjectives to describe each of the main characters in Episode I: Anna, Karenin, Vronsky, Levin, Kitty, Stiva, Dolly.
- Why is Anna attracted to Vronsky? What does she risk in giving in to her passion for him? Compare Anna's behavior with her brother Stiva's. What does Stiva risk? How does Tolstoy demonstrate the inequality between men and women in his time?
- How is the relationship between Levin and Kitty different from that between Anna and Vronsky? How do the two story lines complement each other? (You may want to use a Venn diagram to help students organize their thinking.)
- Were you surprised that Karenin forgave Anna in the final scene? Why did she ask for his forgiveness? Look back at the four adjectives you used to describe Karenin, Vronsky, and Anna. Which still apply?
- The story of Anna Karenina turns on the overwhelming physical passion between Anna and Vronsky. Yet within the pages of Tolstoy's novel, there are no scenes of their love-making. When a friend and critic commended Tolstoy for leaving out "the details of the seduction," Tolstoy replied: "Even if I were to rewrite everything from the start a hundred times, in this place I wouldn't change anything."
- How do you think the story will develop from here? Working in groups, have students write a plot summary for the second episode of Anna Karenina. Be sure to refer to all the story lines developed in Episode I. Students should pay particular attention to points of conflict which occur in Episode I and think about how they may resolve in Episode II.
- What does Kitty teach Levin about love and marriage? Cite specific scenes. How does Kitty's definition of love contrast with Anna's?
- How does Anna's reception back in St. Petersburg show the hypocrisy of aristocratic society? Compare Anna's position with Vronsky's and Princess Betsy's.
- What techniques are used to show viewers the deterioration of Anna's mental state? Consider acting, music and sound, and camera techniques.
- Is Vronsky a sympathetic or unsympathetic character in Episode II? How are Vronsky and Levin, who meet twice in this episode, like and unlike?
- In each of the marriages portrayed in Anna Karenina (Anna and Karenin, Dolly and Oblonsky, Kitty and Levin), one partner asks the other for forgiveness. Discuss these scenes and the repercussions. What is the result for each individual and each relationship? What should be the role and nature of sacrifice and forgiveness in a marriage? When does it lead to greater understanding and intimacy and when is it destructive?
- Have students look back at the adjectives they used to describe the main characters after viewing Episode I. Would they change any of their descriptions? Share with students how the actors describe their characters. Did the actors' portrayals reflect their understanding of their characters?
- What do you think Kitty means when she tells Levin "you think too much. What counts is what's in here"? Is the lesson of Anna Karenina that you should follow your heart? Isn't that what Anna did? What is Tolstoy saying about how to live?
- Replay for students consecutive scenes in which Dolly travels from Kitty's country home to Anna and Vronsky's, then back again.
Start: "The Scherbatskys are invading" (around 55 minutes in)
End: Dolly embraces her children (about 64 minutes in)
Contrast the two locations. How is Anna's home different from Kitty's? How does the meeting between Dolly and Anna mirror their meeting in the opening scenes of the film? What does Dolly see in Anna's life that she envies? What does she have that Anna does not? Who would you rather be, and why? How does the contrast between Dolly and Anna that Tolstoy creates in these scenes develop the themes of love, marriage, and family?
- Compare the central male characters: Vronsky, Levin, Oblonsky, and Karenin. On the board, list the strengths and weaknesses of each. Which character do students most admire and why? How do assessments of what is a strength and what is a weakness differ when discussing male versus female characters?
- In the opening line to Anna Karenina, Tolstoy writes, "Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Write a persuasive essay in which you agree or disagree with Tolstoy's statement. What do you think Tolstoy meant by it? Does the story bear it out? Do you agree with this sentiment? (To help your students write and evaluate your essays, you may wish to distribute the attached instructional rubric.)
Essays + Interviews | Who's Who | A Tolstoy Timeline
Novel to Film | Teacher's Guide | The Forum | Links and Bibliography
About The Series |
The American Collection |
Schedule & Season |
Feature Library |
Learning Resources |