Monday, September 16, 2013

Family vs. Fame

For me, the "war" parts of War and Peace are monotonous and dull. Military strategy and the discussions of generals don't interest me as much as the gossip and intrigues of high society. That being said, there was one scene in this week's reading that I found particularly striking. At the end of chapter eleven, Andrew reflects on the coming battle, and realizes that he might die the next day (in fact, he takes it as a sort of macabre certainty). As so often happens, this epiphany is accompanied by a reflection on what truly matters to him in life. Prince Andrew values rank and esteem more than anything else on earth. In a rather melodramatic soliloquy, Andrew says that, "Precious and dear as many people are to me...I would give them all at once for a moment of glory, of triumph over men, of love from men I don't know and never shall know" (Tolstoy 230). This vehement admission struck me because it is one of the first times that we clearly get to see what a character stands for. I don't think a character's values and intentions will ever be spelled out as clearly as Andrew's are here.

 The fact that Andrew is willing to give up his family (who, as we've seen already, he doesn't care for much) to gain the admiration of strangers not only speaks volumes about Andrew's character, it sets up a moral question for us to debate. Is it fair to abandon one's family in order to gain status or rank, or should family be valued above everything? Andrew's fate will likely provide us clues as to how Tolstoy would answer this question, and it will surely crop up again later in the novel.


  1. Stella, I enjoyed your post. That moment in the book struck me as well. Do you think another purpose of this direct representation of Andrew's ideas could be an allusion to Tolstoy's own feelings about the "superman theory"? The idea seems strikingly similar to the moral questions you ask at the end of your post. Can one escape the need for human love to achieve glory? I think that Andrew could definitely be Tolstoy's mode for exploring this theory.

  2. Awesome post Stella!
    I don't think it's fair to completely abandon one's family in order to gain status. There needs to be a balance which may not be easy to find & it will require some sacrifice on both parts.

    Andrew definitely got caught up in trying to gain more recognition and positive attention drawn to himself. He seeks to be a great leader and in the midst of that he sort of forgot about the importance of family. He realizes how valuable life is and how much his family matters when he is wounded in the battlefield. Book three ends with "At every jolt he again felt unendurable pain; his feverishness increased and he grew delirious. Visions of his father, wife, sister, and future son...formed the chief subjects of his delirious fancies" (Tolstoy 255). Likewise, after hearing his son's cries, he chokes up and begins to cry. I don't think he could feel the same joy from a simple promotion. In my opinion he will be more successful if he has family support.

  3. I also struggle to pay attention during the war scenes in the book. Comparatively the family scenes are much more interesting to me.

    While I don't personally agree with Andrew's willingness to give up his life in order to gain fame and glory, it makes sense when you consider how he feels toward his family. Andrew is a rather selfish character in my opinion. While he would pity his wife and child having to live without him, Andrew still makes the decision to put himself in harm's way for his own benefit.

    I think being in the war for Andrew is much more of a personal journey than actually defending Russia. This novel really is a "coming of age" story, so I believe there is some justification for Andrew's selfishness, as he is at an age where "finding oneself" is key to healthy development. However, it is unfortunate Andrew married so young as by risking his own life he is not thinking about those who he has a responsibility to care for back at home.

  4. I would agree with Lizzie that this aspect of the story relates to Tolstoy's depictions of characters' "coming of age" journeys. Stella points out just how explicitly Tolstoy presents Andrew's feelings, which I think shows how Tolstoy wants the reader to take note of them and even be somewhat shocked or surprised. I think that Tolstoy furthers our understanding of Andrew in "Death of Lise," because Andrew does show many strong emotions. I think that these feelings show that even though Andrew thinks that he can go be a hero in the world and his family isn't necessary to him, when Lise dies he realizes that his family is still a part of who he is. Andrew himself is probably surprised at his own reaction. Should we be sympathetic for Andrew who at heart is still a sensitive man or be even more critical of him for ignoring his family for his own selfish pursuits?

  5. This near-death experience is probably gonna be the turning point of Andrew's life. He finally realizes that family is one of the most important and precious part of his life. But now Lise passed away and Andrew doesn't have the chance to make up his indifference and even detestation to her. I'm curious about how Andrew will treat the problem of "family vs. fame" in the future. The loss of his belief in fame and one of the family member is definitely a huge frustration. Andrew is now lost. And I guess the following story would be about how he'll re-establish a new life.