Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tolstoy's use of Fate

In the beginnings of both book 9 and book 10 of War and Peace Tolstoy describes the inevitability of the French invading Russia in 1812 and their defeat at the hands of the Russians. In both books Tolstoy emphasizes the fact that no one is really to blame for any of these actions and that it was all unavoidable acts of fate. He claims that the "Rulers and generals are "history's slaves""(535). About the French invading, he questions "What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes(535)?" While describing the people who took part in the fighting he claims that they were all "imagining that they knew what they were doing and did it for their own free will, but they all were involuntary tools of history, carrying on a work concealed from them but comprehensible to us"(607). I am wondering how his use of fate in these books reflect upon his belief in religion or the existence of god. On one hand it could be interpreted to symbolize Tolstoy's belief in god, showing how people are destined and guided by god to do what they do. People act in accordance with their own free will but are all the while being led to the inevitable outcome god has decided. On the other hand it could symbolize a belief in the lack of a god, showing how their is no influence from above directing the lives of men and women either way. With no god influencing the world, "history's slaves" assume they are living their lives based on their own free will but are really being led to these inevitable outcomes by the circumstances of their time. Either way it is clear Tolstoy believes in fate. Whether Tolstoy believes that fate is determined by God or circumstance is the real question. What do you guys think?


  1. I am not sure if Tolstoy knows which he believes yet. As you said, it is clear he believes in fate, but the ambiguity of what that fate is determined by leads me to think that maybe he is still working that out or wants the reader to question what he/she thinks. We have clearly seen his struggle with his feelings towards religion. Possibly, though, I think in this particular book Tolstoy leans towards the side of circumstance.

  2. It seems to me that at this point of the novel that Tolstoy believes in destiny. This novel reminds me of Buddhism, where there is no god but there is karma. Buddhism states that all existence is suffering and to be free you have to attained nirvana. To do this you must take live a life of wisdom, discipline and conduct. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Did Tolstoy ever study Buddhism?

  3. I find it interesting that Tolstoy quotes Proverbs 21.1 “The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord” on page 537. In the paragraphs preceding this Tolstoy states that he believes there are two sides to each person. That is that they consciously act in their own interests, but subconsciously act in interest of the history. I can’t tell if Tolstoy is equating history to god or saying that he believes that god controls history.