Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What if nothing can be done

Should we strive for a change even when nothing can be done?Andrew's answer is no. He devotes himself to a reforming project inside the army and ultimately gives up when he realizes that nothing can be done. As for me, the answer shouldn't be an easy no.

Andrew's reform is destined to fail because he oversimplifies the problems in the army and expects too much from the reform. He borrows ideas from the French military code that can't perfectly fit in the Russian army. Meanwhile, problems within army are too complicated to be solved by an immature reform. On top of that, his proposal isn't taken seriously at all. Things could have been improved if people with power took in the ideas from outside and chose what can be applied. 

However, I don't consider his efforts all for nothing just because the reform doesn't work out. From one aspect, at least it saves Andrew from depression and makes him think logically and try to do good for others. Notably, Andrew is given a powerless and not-paid position when he works on the reform. This indicates he doesn't care much about personal promotion and heroism as much as he did before. Andrew's personality is changing when he carries out reform. On the other hand, Andrew frees the serfs and builds schools and hospitals in his own estates. This is actually a remarkable reform, which Andrew has done naturally and successfully.

Using Andrew's failure, Tolstoy implies that nothing can be done with an individual's power, but that shouldn't be the reason holding us from taking action. Even if one fails, he has ruled out a wrong path toward success. And individual efforts adding up can make a big difference.

* Special thanks to Adriana Zenteno Hopp. She edited the blog. And feel free to point out my awkward expressions. I'd love to learn. :-)


  1. Good post Your writing sounds very natural, and the only thing I picked up on was "As for me, the answer shouldn't be an easy no." You might mean one of two things here: either that for you the answer is not an easy no, or that you think Andrew gives up too easily when he should not. In the first case you should write "isn't" instead of "shouldn't be", while in the second case you should write "I don't think Andrew's answer should be an easy no" (or something to ascertain that the owner of the "no" is Andrew and not you).

    That aside, I generally agree with your post, especially regarding Andrew's effort's positive effects on his mental health. At the same time, I think Tolstoy is being too simplifying and maybe even backwards in his diagnosis of Andrew's effort. The nature of the army reforms are pretty unclear, but while benefits in wealth or organization may not have a perceivable benefit on the serfs at Andrew's estate, they may have very clear consequences on the war effort or even taxes (if spending is involved, which is an assumption because we learn little to nothing of the reform). Further, Tolstoy treats Speranski poorly and is generally very wary of political reforms. While I can accept the proposition that you should try to make yourself happy because the world will always be insurmountably screwed up, I think it is hasty to say political reforms are useless, as Tolstoy implies in Speranski and in Andrew's realization. So, after all that, I strongly agree with you; individual efforts can make a difference.

  2. Andrew's individuality is a concept that he struggles with throughout the novel, and I like the way that you explained his struggle in this post. To me, it seems like Andrew always has lofty goals for himself, and does his best to apply himself in order to reach these goals. In the military, Andrew wanted to be honored and become a military hero. Now, Andrew still wants to do big things, but doesn't focus as much on the honor that he would win for himself. Your post does a great job expressing this, and I look forward to seeing how Andrew's individualism evolves.