Friday, September 26, 2014

Andrew and the serfs

Does Andrew have a point when it comes to his opinions on the well-being of the serfs? Pierre's efforts to help them failed miserably. The schools and hospitals presumably stayed empty and efforts to decrease their workload actually forced some of them to work more. Prince Andrew tells Pierre that it is natural for them to do physical labor- that they need to work in order to be happy just as Andrew needs to contemplate life. Obviously he thinks that he is far superior to the serfs. So superior does he think himself that he calls their condition animalistic. He takes their humanity away and speaks of them like they are objects. There is no way that Andrew could possibly know what they want or what they are thinking and to assume that he does is extremely condescending and frankly terrible. Is there anything that can be done to actually help them or will those changes make things harder somewhere else?

As I read this section, I thought back to the interactions between Pierre and the chief steward who suggested that it would be impossible for them to be happier than they were at that time under Pierre. What would happen if the serfs were freed? Where would they go? They would have no money or easy means with which to get money. In fact, I wonder if the only way for them to get a job would be to become indentured servants at another estate. They would get nothing out of the ordeal except for a less stable job with perhaps a crueler boss.

This situation is similar to when the slaves were freed in America, except then, some vague efforts were being made to help them. Despite these efforts, many freed people wound right back up as slaves of indentured servitude. It seems to be that in Russia at this time, a serf had a brighter future enslaved than freed.



  1. I think in this time serfs really didn't have other options (as you noted). They had no means to move up in society and even if they were to be freed it would do little to help them. I think that creates a complicated problem for people trying to help them because it appears that owners freeing serfs won't help. And this actions is how everyone (who is trying 'to do good') thinks they can create this change. Rather all serfs need to be freed and provided with the means to begin to build their own lives. I think as hard as Pierre tries (which can be perceived as minimal) he really can't help the serfs. One man can rally the others to help him make a difference but can't just free his own serfs and expect his job in helping people to be done.

  2. Well this happened later on in the timeline but when Russian serfs were eventually freed in the period surrounding the industrial revolution some of them were against it claiming to rather have land than freedom as land is livelihood. Leaving them "free" yet penniless was not helping them at all.

  3. Yeah, you guys make good points. And it's interesting then how Andrew was able to free them so easily. Tolstoy never really commented on what became of them, only suggested that they were all fine afterwards. I feel like he kind of changed his mind about the whole thing. Like first they were unfreeable and then all of a sudden they were freed and happy as clams!