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In The Kreutzer Sonata, Leo Tolstoy explores the importance and meaning of love in relationships and marriages in the mid-nineteenth century through the eyes of an older man named Pozdnischeff. Pozdnischeff went through quite a few things during his marriage and while it did ultimately fail, it gives him a unique and maybe even, a twisted view of love. He recounts his tragic story to others not only to caution them from ending up in a situation like his but to analyze and try to understand at what stage of his marriage did he finally lose control. Because of all the things he's gone through, he comes to three generalizations: woman are deceitful beings, relationships between woman and men can never be anything but solely physical and emotional love is only a temporary feeling that doesn't exist for long. Out of these generalizations he comes to the conclusion that there is no such thing as true, genuine everlasting love.
Throughout the story, women are continually portrayed as scheming individuals that have to be watched closely and handled in a special manner when it comes to relationships and marriages. As Pozdnischeff believes, women are weaker by nature and consequently are deficient in the rights that have been afforded to men. In spite of this belief, women can balance things out simply by using what Pozdnischeff notes as their "sensuality". Once they utilize this certain skill to 'seduce and tame', their positions compared to men are not removed but instead reversed and the woman then gains all the power. This makes Pozdnischeff terribly uneasy, "Even in former times I always felt ill at ease in presence of a lady arrayed in all the splendor of ball-dress: at present I positively shudder at the sight for I recognize therein the palpable danger to people in general, a danger that has no legal right to existâ€¦" (p.84). Pozdnischeff is leery of this influence that woman are able to hold over men certainly because he sees it as a window of opportunity for this Indeed, Pozdnischeff is wary of the power that women possess, because he sees it as an opportunity for treason. 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, Pozdnischeff 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 Pozdnischeff 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, Pozdnischeff 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). Pozdnischeff 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 Pozdnischeff 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 Pozdnischeff. "To love one person for a whole lifetime is like saying that one candle will burn a whole life" (p.531). Pozdnischeff 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.
Pozdnischeff'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 Pozdnischeff 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.