The world of Tolstoy\'s Anna Karenina is a world ruled by chance. From the very opening chapters, where a watchman is accidentally run over by a train at Moscow\'s Petersburg station, to the final, climactic scenes of arbitrary destruction when Levin searches for Kitty in a forest beset by lightning, characters are brought together and forced into action against their will by coincidence and, sometimes, misfortune. That Anna and Vronsky ever meet and begin the fateful affair that becomes the centerpiece of the novel is itself a consequence of a long chain of unrelated events: culminating Anna\'s sharing a berth with Vronsky\'s mother on her way to reconcile Dolly and Stiva in Moscow. And yet, as an epigraph to this seemingly chaotic world of chance event, a seemingly amoral world that would seem to neither punish sin nor reward good, Tolstoy chooses a quotation that comes originally from the book of Deuteronomy\'s song of Moses: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." Originally (and somewhat narrowly) thought to refer to Anna\'s final ostracism from the upper echelons of society that punish her for her misdeeds, the epigraph is the key to Tolstoy\'s subtle and philosophically complex conception of morality that denies the existence of a universal and unavoidable justice and derives responsibility from the individual\'s freedom to create and then bind himself to laws. Three of the novel\'s characters, Stephen Oblonsky, Constatine Levin, and Anna Karenina, all in some way connected to the Shcherbatsky family, serve to illustrate the various ways that Tolstoy\'s individual can be, or fail to be, "good," the various ways in which a character can be moral, immoral or amoral through the use of thought, or reason, to create necessity outside of the confused demands of a chaotic reality.
Tolstoy\'s world is indeed a servant to chance, and the plot depends so heavily on coincidence that Anna Karenina, taking into account the many elements of Menippian satire and Socratic dialogue that are integrated into its structure, may well be considered in part a carnival novel. The steeplechase scene during which Vronsky breaks Frou-Frou\'s back is a perfect example of carnivalism -- the tragic yet somehow slapstick and cartoon-like injuries that befall the riders is a parody of the grand battlefield that the steeplechase is supposed to symbolize and the crowds of observers present provide the necessary "public square" that Bakhtin outlines as necessary for the second key property of carnivalism, "free and familiar contact among people," at the racecourse occasioned by the terrible accidents that generate a swarm of rumors that pass between the spectators regardless, for once, of class and gender -- in the excitement of the event, Tolstoy writes, Anna\'s shriek of fear at the precise moment of Vronsky\'s upset passes the notice of those surrounding her usually so keen to find something inappropriate in Anna\'s relation to Vronsky. Bakhtin\'s theory of carnivalism, however, only goes so far in characterizing Tolstoy\'s prose, and even though the reliance on chance as generator of events continues, the solipsistic mode of self-analysis and interpersonal distance returns almost immediately after the race is over and as the novel continues, becomes the dominant mode of ideological presentation so key to the essence of Anna\'s relationship to Vronsky and to her reasons for suicide.
Stephen Oblonsky, the first character we encounter in the novel, is at home in the turbulent and unstructured world that Tolstoy depicts, and lives at ease with the often meaningless turns of fate that occur to him and others. "You wish all the facts of life to be consistent, but they never are," he says to Levin in Part I. "You want the activity of each separate man to have an aim, and love and family life always to coincide -- and that doesn\'t happen either. All the variety, charm and beauty of life are made up of light and shade."
Oblonsky is a materialist, although not in a formally philosophical way. He might better be said to be a pragmatist, or hedonist, although those labels, too, have their problems, since, as Anna remarks to Dolly, family life for him is sacred. He is not particularly religious but neither is he an intellectual such as Koznyshev or an nihilist such as Nicholas. Perhaps the best way to characterize Oblonsky is