Yusuke SATO, V. V. SOROKINA
“THE LITTLE MAN WITH A TANGLED BEARD”
(Concerning One Symbolic Image in “Anna Karenina”)
One of the most important symbols in Tolstoj’s Anna Karenina is the figure of the little muzhik with a tangled beard, who turns up at the crucial moments of the heroine’s life: when she first meets Vronsky, then before she gives birth to her daughter, and (three times) on the day of her death. He appears not only “in daylight”, but also in the characters’ dreams and nightmares. The attentive reader will notice that this mysterious image (which many critics have failed to understand properly) bears all the distinctive features of the “blacksmith” from myths and folk-tales Hephaestus and others with his deformed appearance, and his work with fire and iron.
In the novel the motif of iron serves as the connecting link between two symbolic images: the “muzhik” and the railway (zheleznaia doroga, lit. ‘iron way’). The latter is the synonym of progress and European civilization which, according to Tolstoj, were leading Russia in the wrong direction. Both the “muzhik/blacksmith” and the “railway” allude to the sinister image of the ferrea saecula the “iron” nineteenth century. Although this image is not made explicit in the text, its presence may be felt due to the multiple and significant correspondences between motifs, which are analyzed in this article.
The associative links between images, the phonic metaphors, the elements of “neo-mythologism” and the impressionist “poetics of understatement”, which are organically interwoven into the fabric of the realistic narration, enable us consider Tolstoj’s novel a precursor of the new tendencies in Russian art of the fin de siècle.