Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Comparison of How Man’s needs and Social Status Effect His Behavior in Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment

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Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina are two Russian Novels that both take place in the eighteen-sixties. The novels reflect two different ends of the sociology spectrum. Anna Karenina’s conflicts revolve around the realm of high-class society, however Crime and Punishment’s conflicts reflect the life of lower, mid-class society. The two main characters of both novels are Anna Karenina and Raskolnikov. The social statuses of these two characters are determined by the level they find themselves on “Maslows Hierarchy of Needs”.

“Maslow set up a hierarchical theory of needs in which all the basic needs are at the bottom, and the needs concerned with mans highest potential are at the top. The hierarchic theory is often represented as a pyramid, with the larger, lower levels representing the lower needs, and the upper point representing the need for self-actualization. Each level of the pyramid is dependent on the previous level.” (Maslow)

The pyramid of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” is shown below


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Wherever people may find themselves on this pyramid is a reflection of their social status. For example, it is most likely that only a person in low-class society would need to worry of man’s basic needs for survival. This is the base of the pyramid and includes food, water, shelter, and warmth. The level man finds himself on this pyramid determines what he will spend his time worrying about, and may cause him to take drastic actions for his needs to be met. Ergo, behavior of man is a result of the level he finds himself on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as well as in society.

Anna Karenina in the novel Anna Karenina, is a woman of high-class society.

“There is really only one circle of Petersburg upper society everyone knows everyone else, even visits each other. But this great circle has subdivisions of its own. Anna Arkadyevna Karenina had friends and close ties in three different circles.” (Tolstoy 1)

Her husband supports her and her son financially. Therefore she is above the base of the pyramid. Because of her husband’s authority in society, Anna’s security needs are also met.

“The majority of the younger men envied him for just what was the most irksome factor in his love- the exalted position of Karenin, and the consequent transparency to society, of their liaison.” (Tolstoy 185)

This places Anna’s needs at again a higher level of Maslow’s pyramid. Although at the beginning of the novel Anna feels she is content with life, after Vronsky pursues her, Anna realizes she doesn’t love her husband, and is in need of Vronsky’s love. But the need for “Belonging-Love” on the pyramid is not met for Anna. This is shown in her actions and behavior in the novel.

Raskolnikov in the novel Crime and Punishment, is a man on the lower level of mid-class society. He has food, water, shelter, and warmth, but is always struggling to maintain the “Physiological” level of the pyramid.

“He had successfully avoided meeting his landlady on the staircase. His garret was…more like a cupboard than a room… And each time he passed (the landlady’s door), the young man had a sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed. He was hopelessly in debt to his landlady, and was afraid of meeting her.” (Dostoevsky 1)

Therefore, Raskolnikov can not move past this level.

The behavior of these two characters is towards satisfying the level of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” that they find themselves on, so that they may progress to the top of the pyramid to develop and improve as a person. But for both characters, they almost become obsessive with what they need to have satisfied on Maslow’s pyramid. This causes the characters to behave irrationally.

Because Anna Karenina is on the “Belonging-Love” level of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” her realm of life revolves around her need for love. “Her inner passions are strong, and after they are drawn out by Count Vronsky, they tend to govern her behavior.” (Anna)

Many young women envy Anna Karenina because she has all that a woman could ever want; beauty, a husband who’s a powerful government minister, riches, and a son she adores. But Anna feels the need for a stronger love and finds this love with the Count Vronsky. Her feeling to pursue and maintain her relationship with Vronsky results in her sinful and selfish behavior. For example, although Anna expresses deep love and care for her son, she still chooses to leave her husband and son because of her pregnancy with Vronsky and for the love and attention Vronsky gives to her. Also, because of Anna’s decision to leave with Vronsky, who’s very proud of his military career, Vronsky chooses to deny his promotion and quit the army altogether.

“But now, without an instants consideration, he declined it, and observing dissatisfaction in the upper quarters at this step, he immediately retired from the army. A month later Alexei Alexandrovich was left alone with his son in his house at Petersburg, while Anna had gone abroad with Vronsky….” (Tolstoy 440)

And although Anna knows her affair with Vronsky has ruined not only her reputation in high-class society, but it has also made Karenin appear to be foolish and no longer receive respect, she still chooses to be with Vronsky. At this point, Anna is now forced to live away from the society that once admired her.

“Relations with the society of the place- foreign and Russian- were equally out of the question, owing to the irregularity of their position.” (Tolstoy 465)

“As a man, Vronsky enjoys comparative social freedom, which plunges Anna into increasingly intense fits of jealousy.” (Anna)

“As for the amusements of bachelor existence…they could not be thought of, since the sole attempt of the sort had led to a sudden attack of depression in Anna, quite out of proportion with the cause...” (Tolstoy 468)

At this point in the novel, Anna’s character changes drastically. She is depressed and always anxious, believing that Vronsky is having other affairs. She becomes obsessive with knowing what he does and where he goes.

“The letter was from Anna. Before he read the letter, he knew its contents…he had promised to be back on Friday. Today was Saturday…The letter was what he had expected, but the form of it was unexpected, and particularly disagreeable to him.” (Tolstoy 66)

Anna’s anxiety increases and she has convinced herself that Vronsky no longer loves her, because “under the pressure of her constant suspicion, Vronskys love for her begins to sour” (Anna). Anna’s need for love becomes her only need in life. Feeling she has lost love from everybody, she convinces herself she can now only receive sympathy. Anna Karenina ‘knows’ in her mind the only way to receive sympathy is to throw herself on the railroad tracks before the oncoming train and commit suicide.

“But she did not take her eyes from the wheels of the second car. And exactly at the moment when the space between the wheels came opposite her…drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the car, and lightly…dropped onto her knees.” (Tolstoy 760)

Raskolnikov is a man struggling to maintain his needs for water, food, shelter, and warmth. All other elements of his life that were once of importance have vanished because Maslow’s theory says the base of the pyramid must be met before anything else on the pyramid can even be apart of man’s life.

“He was crushed by poverty, but the anxieties of his position had of late ceased to weigh upon him. He had given up attending to matters of practical importance; he had lost all desire to do so.” (Dostoevsky 1)

The only money Raskolnikov receives to help with his needs are from his mother and the old pawnbroker, since losing his teaching job.

The Pawnbroker was a rich woman who was able to spare more than a fair price for the items people offered her.

“…how she (the pawnbroker) gave a quarter of the value of an article and took five and even seven percent a month on it,” (Dostoevsky 6) created hatred in Raskolnikov towards the woman. She was selfish and wretched in Raskolnikov’s mind. He was a man who was suffering to continue living. He had no job, was in debt, and needed money to pay rent. His desperation for money and a better life took over. He decided to kill the pawnbroker for not only himself, but for all of society.

“He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head.” (Dostoevsky 74)

In both novels, the main characters seek to satisfy the needs of the level they are on “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. Both character behaviors are for meeting these needs. As the novels progress, the character behaviors become more aggressive and obsessive as their needs take over their lives. It doesn’t matter where man may find himself on the ladder of society; everyone has needs that must be met before their lives can progress significantly. This is found with the characters of Anna Karenina and Raskolnikov. They are two ver different characters, but their behavior and selfishness are similar.

Word Count 1478

“Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” 15 Oct 001. 1 April 00. http//

“Anna Karenina.” Summary. 1 April 00. http//

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. New York New American Library, 161.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York Random House, 1.

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