Koznyshev, deciding to take a vacation, goes to visit his brother, Konstantin Levin. Nothing is more relaxing for Koznyshev than this rural atmosphere: whereas Levin, engulfed in the full tide of summer work, is annoyed at his brother's attitude. Farms and peasants and livestock are part of Levin's life work, while Koznyshev regards this sphere of being merely a refreshment from heavy intellectual labors.
At mowing time, Levin is strongly tempted to join the mowers, but he fears his brother would laugh at him. Finally overpowered by his desire for work and exercise — refreshment from the tiresome intellectual brilliance of Koznyshev, Levin, as casually as possible, orders his scythe sharpened. Working between two peasants, Levin finds it difficult to equal the efforts of the mowers with their untiring muscles. Swinging the scythe with his arm and entire body, Levin concentrates so intensely that all concept of time vanishes. At the noontime break he stays with the peasants, sharing a meal of salted bread with an old man and drinking of the warm river water. Exhausted and exultant, Levin feels at peace.
Koznyshev notes his brother's restored spirits when Levin returns. As they talk together, Levin suspects that Koznyshev's interest in politics, in progressive trends, in the education of the peasants (whom he likes as a class, not as individuals whose experience differs from his own) are only subjects for intellectual exercise. He feels his brother lacks emotional force in all his beliefs.
Koznyshev sums up: "Our differences amount to this," he says, "that you make the mainspring self-interest while I suppose that interest in the common weal exists in every man of a certain degree of advancement." Agreeing with Levin's point that "action founded on material interests would be more desirable," Koznyshev understands that Konstantin, with his own intense, almost primitive, nature requires "intense energetic action or nothing." Appreciating one another's differences, the brothers part affectionately when Koznyshev leaves.
Besides defining the differences between the brothers, their arguments represent Levin's own struggle for meaning as he strives to discover the "key to life" first through science, then philosophy, finally concluding that the answer lies in living a "natural life," that is, seeking a universal identity of his soul and that of nature. Koznyshev's emptiness and sterility derive from his dependence on intellectual processes, while Levin's "salvation" derives from his emotional commitment. The exultant feeling of health and peace Levin achieves from mowing prefigures his anti-intellectual solution to life's ultimate meaning.
Levin's "materialism" is based on his confidence in the importance of individual needs. Education, for instance, means nothing to him unless it furthers one's emotional development and deals with increasing one's awareness of basic life goals. For him, peasants do not require education since they understand the basic relation between an individual and his purpose in life. To Koznyshev, education is important for its own sake and must be universally applied so that everyone has intellectual tools with which to understand the complicated problems of an advanced society.