Kreutzer Sonata Essay, Research Paper
Leo Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata is a powerful example of the consequences of a strained marriage. In Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy explores the importance and relevance of love in relationships as seen through the eyes of an old man named Pozdnyshev living in the mid-nineteenth century. The disturbing experiences that Pozdnyshev goes through in his failed marriage gives him somewhat of a unique, if not warped, view of love. Pozdnyshev relates his tragic story to others not only to prevent them from making the same mistake as he did but also to analyze his own actions and to understand at what point he lost control of his marriage. From his experiences, he comes to three generalizations: that women are inherently deceitful, that relationships between men and women can never be anything but purely physical and that emotional love is only a temporary feeling that can never sustain a strong and long term relationship such as marriage. From these generalizations he comes to the conclusion that there is no such thing as everlasting love.
In the story, women are constantly described as devious beings that need to be dealt with carefully in relationships such as marriage. Pozdnyshev believes women to be naturally weaker, and therefore lack the rights afforded to men. Despite this incongruity, women can easily level the playing field by utilizing what Pozdnyshev calls their “sensuality”. Once this option is exercised, the inequalities are not only erased, but reversed, and the woman gains full control. Pozdnyshev is discomforted by this notion and states, “I used formerly to feel uncomfortable and uneasy when I saw a lady dressed up for a ball, but now I am simply frightened and plainly see her as something dangerous and illicit” (p.544). Indeed, Pozdnyshev is wary of the power that women possess, because he sees it as an opportunity for infidelity. Portrayed as frivolous nymphs, he feels women will attach themselves to the first thing that attracts their fancy. Thus he believes that men must keep women in check, not only to regain their balance of power, but also to prevent affairs from occurring. He says dryly, “Don’t trust your horse in the field, or your wife in the house” (p.528). This distrust in a relationship leads to the man taking drastic measures to prevent his greatest fear from becoming reality. Once in a marriage, Pozdnyshev feels that it is the man’s job to instill fear in the woman. “Yes, the female sex must be curbed in time or else all is lost!” (p.528). This fear would be the means of molding the woman into the man’s ideal shape and characteristic. Unfortunately, love cannot be insured nor enforced through fear and mistrust, so therefore true love could not exist in such an environment.
The importance of “physical” love that the people place in relationships is emphasized in order to show that most marriages are based on sexual relationships. All interactions between men and women are acts of “physical” love and have very little to do with deep emotional attachment or “spriritual affinity”. “Among us, people marry regarding marriage as nothing but copulation, and the result is either deception or coercion” (p.531). Marriage is a relationship consummated by love, yet Pozdnyshev does not approve of it because the marriages he has seen were for all the wrong reasons. These kinds of marriages promote promiscuity and allows love affairs to run rampant in the marriage. Despite the many flaws he sees within marriages, he acknowledges the existence of true love. He has his own ideas of what love should be like yet he is unable to share it with his wife. “Love is supposed to be spiritual and not sensual. Well, if the love is spiritual, a spiritual communion, then that spiritual communion should find expression in words, in conversations, in discourse” (p.545). Unfortunately, Pozdnyshev never experienced this kind of deep spiritual attachment towards his wife which is why he condemns this sacred institution known as marriage. “First you say that marriage is based on love, and when I express a doubt as to the existence of a love other than sensual, you prove the existence of love by the fact that marriages exist. But marriages in our days are mere deception!” (p.531). Pozdnyshev wants to believe that true love can exist within marriages, but in reality, all he has ever seen points to the contrary.
“Love is an exclusive preference for one above everybody else” (p.530) but as Pozdnyshev puts it, love can only last for a short amount of time. He refuses to believe that love can last for a lifetime in a world where everything is changing all the time. “In real life this preference for one may last for years (that happens very rarely), more often for months, or perhaps for weeks, days, or hours” (p.530). It is love which keeps a couple faithful to each other, yet people change constantly. Human beings are whimsical and capricious in nature, therefore a life-lasting commitment such as a marriage based on love can never truly survive. Love is an ephemeral feeling and for two people to love each other simultaneously for a lifetime is an improbable notion in the eyes of Pozdnyshev. “To love one person for a whole lifetime is like saying that one candle will burn a whole life” (p.531). Pozdnyshev believes this to be because of the traumatic experiences with his wife. When he first quarrels with his wife, he describes the experience as like encountering another being full of coldness and hatred that he had never seen before. “I remember how horror-stricken I was when I saw this. ‘How? What?’ I thought. ‘Love is a union of souls – and instead of that there is this! Impossible, this is not she!’ I tried to soften her but encountered such an insuperable wall of cold virulent hostility” (p.549-550) This experience sheds a new light on the woman that he once thought he knew and loved so much. After seeing a separate side of her, he realizes that he does not know her as well as he thought he did and therefore the love that he felt for his wife slowly diminishes.
Pozdnyshev’s unsuccessful marriage gives him new insight on relationships between men and women. It enables him to come to the cynical realization that true everlasting love can never exist so long as women continue to be unfaithful, relationships continue to be based on physical pleasure and temporary love remains the basis for marriage. Tolstoy portrays Pozdnyshev as the tragic hero who is unable to embrace any emotional aspects of love and is condemned to live a life of solitude and loneliness. He continues to persecute himself for his actions but never really finds a solution.