Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Train. Tolstoy uses a train speeding across Russia metaphorically and symbolically to reflect his view of the Russian high society headed toward a fast moral and social disintegration brought by civilization from the West. Construction of the huge trans-Siberian railroad, a costly project, greatly diminished arable land and impoverished many landowners and peasants. For these reasons, Tolstoy treats trains as symbols of “unnatural” and destructive forces.
As Tolstoy’s protagonist, Pozdnyshev, travels on the train, he expresses Tolstoy’s ideas in great length and detail. Through the choice of passengers and their participation in the conversation, Tolstoy displays opinions of different segments of society: educated versus uneducated, modern versus traditional, male versus female. Tolstoy believes that peasants and women are closer to nature and land, by their role, therefore crucial for the health and well-being of the society. During the train ride, Pozdnyshev tells his life story: his “libertine” youth and premature sexual corruption, marriage based on the romantic love (lust), quickly turning into emptiness and boredom, ultimately escalating into obsessive hate and jealousy.
Polluted with debauchery and plagued by shame and guilt, Pozdnyshev’s mind develops a mental aberration fabricating ugly and hateful illusions leading to murder without a rational justification. The furious speed and urgency of the train powerfully (though subliminally) creates the atmosphere of a sexual, obsessive frenzy. The compartmental confinement, like a sick cell of a brain, obsessively focuses on the final, destructive end–murder.
Pozdnyshev’s mental state is similar to Anna Karenina’s. Tolstoy’s earlier novel Anna Karenina (1875-1877) uses train symbols six times to foreshadow violence and tragedy. Although Tolstoy’s favorite metaphor powerfully serves his artistic purpose, the composition of The Kreutzer Sonata (unlike Anna Karenina) is simplified and impoverished by the plot being told during the ride instead of shown in direct, life-simulating action. Tolstoy’s rich and character-revealing dialogues here are replaced by a didactic and less engaging monologue expressing the ideas that Tolstoy strongly represented.