Thursday, December 15, 2011
One of the primary themes Leo Tolstoy explores in War and Peace is what it means to become an adult. In the first book, we meet Natasha and Pierre, two main characters that grow from naïve children to mature adults over the course of the novel. Tolstoy believes that growing up occurs primarily through surviving the hard times life inevitably hands you and that these times mold you into the person you are destined to become. To Tolstoy, growing up occurs not because of your individual choices, but because of the uncontrollable force of history on each person’s life.
Tolstoy feels the great force of history affects every individual life and that no one can escape this force. The reader sees this especially with Natasha, as the war deeply influences when she finally grows up. The war kills both her lover, Andrew, and her brother, Petya. These combined experiences become her defining moment, and the moment she becomes a woman. Tolstoy shows the effect history has on individuals with Pierre, too; Pierre becomes a man when the French irrationally and unjustly imprison him. Thus, while individual choices and events certainly do shape you, Tolstoy asserts that the larger forces in the universe have more power than any individual ever could.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Both war and patriotism are portrayed as negative things in War and Peace. Tolstoy portrays the aristocracy as people who due to their patriotism blindly follow and never question the government. It is the aristocracy who Tolstoy is most critical of that is presented as the most patriotic part of Russian society. In the beginning of the book in Anna Schérer’s soiree Pierre express support for the French Revolution and the ideas of liberty and equality of men. The rest of the aristocrats present strongly disagree and express support the monarchy. When Rostopchin gives a speech about the war and mentions the emperor the crowd is quickly are inspired and several men promise serfs for the army. Carried away with patriotic feelings and a quest for glory Andrew is wound and Petya killed.
I think Tolstoy believes that people have a duty to do what is right and what is good for humanity. However, what is good for humanity is not compatible with patriotism and what is best for one specific county.
Although religious faith allows Princess Mary to cope with her father’s torment, Mary never finds inner-peace because her soul is incessantly searching for the eternal, which prevents her from accepting the present. Natasha also turns to the church for inner-balance. After her love affair with Anatole, Natasha begins to attend church and pray for forgiveness. Although she grows calmer, it is not religion that brings her temporary tranquility; it is the simplicity and structure of her lifestyle, facilitated by the church, which calms her. Pierre joins the freemasonry in hopes of achieving inner-fulfillment and peace; however, the freemasonry only grants Pierre an ephemeral sense of structure and belonging. In captivity Pierre is isolated from the superfluous distractions of the aristocracy. He learns to live simply and achieves true inner-peace through self-reflection and hard work.
Of these three characters, only Pierre finds inner-balance. Tolstoy demonstrates that religion provides one with structure, acceptance and stability; however, religion does not necessarily facilitate the achievement of inner-balance. As seen in the Russian peasantry and Pierre, inner-peace is achieved through self-reflection, simple living and hard work. You must eliminate life’s unnecessary distractions in order to determine your place in the world. Once you determine who you are and who you would like to be, then you gain purpose, understanding and inner-balance.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Patriotism is often most strongly defined when placed in opposition with something. This is the case in Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, set at the time of the Russian War of 1812. Tolstoy imbued his novel with a strong patriotic theme because he was frustrated with the Russian aristocracy’s love of the French during a time when Napoleon was invading their country. By ridiculing the Russian aristocracy’s imitation of the French and creating strong Russian protagonists Tolstoy created a feeling of Russian pride in War and Peace to show both that Russia would triumph over Napoleon in 1812 and that Russian culture was respectable on its own, equal to or better than that of Western Europe.
The important families in the novel each take sides in the cultural dispute. The Kuragin family religiously adheres to French culture and customs to the extent that they continue their devotion to the French as Napoleon invades Moscow. Meanwhile, the Bolkonski and Rostov families follow traditional Russian customs and practices. Tolstoy urges us to sympathize with the Russians, portraying the adherents of French culture as shallow, scheming, and cowardly, while the Russians are patriotic and heroic. Tolstoy despises the idea that French culture is somehow superior to Russian. Therefore he ridicules members of the Russian aristocracy, such as the Kuragins, who only know French and cannot even speak Russian, suggesting that by speaking another country’s language at the expense of their own, they are implying that their culture is inferior. This is why Tolstoy’s protagonists have such strong Russian characteristics: they reflect the author’s own patriotism.
As his protagonists vehemently oppose Napoleon and adhere to traditional Russian culture, Tolstoy supports his view that Russia’s culture is worth more than that of France. The strong sense of nationality apparent in the Bolkonski and Rostov families coupled with their numerous virtues make them characters that the audience can easily identify with. By setting Russian culture against French in the form of the War of 1812 and declaring Russia the winner, Tolstoy sets Russia above France and the rest of Europe on an intellectual and cultural level. In this way the theme of patriotism serves to praise Russian culture and to criticize those who abandon the traditions of their homeland.