Saturday, April 2, 2011


As the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

I think a lot about happy families, having come from an unhappy one myself.

A lot of young men have a problem growing up, which means going from being attracted to a woman, to having sex with her, to being involved with her over time, and then having children with her. Sometimes that happens fast, in a few months. A lot of young guys are not ready for it.

Having recently spent five years teaching teenagers and young adults, I see the story over and over: A young guy wants the sex, but he doesn't know how to handle a real relationship, and when the girl gets knocked up, he freaks.

Many of those young guys bail out on their women. Some of them help raise their kids and are proud to be fathers. Many don't. Some go off to find other girls to knock up.

Why is all this? What is the difference between families that develop happily and couples that fail to become a family?

One answer can be found in Toltsoy's novel, "Anna Karenina," the story of two different couples, Anna and her dashing young cavalryman, Count Vronsky, on the one hand, and Levin and Kitty, a farmer and a young beauty, on the other hand. 

Neither couple should get together, but both do. Kitty is too young and too popular for the middle-aged Levin, but they fall in love and marry and have children. They become a healthy, happy family. They live on a farm and grow crops and hold dinner parties and support employees and animals and have a rich, full life. This, I think, is Tolstoy's ideal.

On the other hand, Anna Karenina, a married woman, is restless and unhappy in her loveless but financially comfortable marriage to a well-to-do government official. When she meets the dashing Vronsky, Anna follows her heart. Anna and Vronsky have a hot romance.

But she and Vronsky are social outcasts. No one accepts them, because they live outside society's norms. They just don't fit in.  

Anna and her dashing young officer can't live comfortably in Russia, along with her peers, so they go off to Italy. But they are outcasts there, too, since they are foreigners, speak Russian, and have no real ties to the culture or the economy or the land. They are the opposite of Kitty and Levin, who have ties to everything in Russia.

Anna and Vronsky return to Russia. But they are still isolated, and their relationship fails. Nothing is working out, so Anna throws herself under a train and commits suicide. Tragic, since she was beautiful and intelligent and could have had a wonderful life.

(Tolstoy wrote the novel after seeing the body of a woman who committed a similar suicide and tried to imagine why.)  

There is a real message here about what it takes to create a happy family. Love alone is not enough. Here it takes not just a village but a whole society to create a happy marriage. Many young men become Vronsky rather than Levin. It's too bad. They should read Tolstoy.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

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