Wednesday, September 10, 2014

War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning. At least for Nicholas and Andrew.

I admit, I pulled the title from the scheduled talk by the Pulitzer-winning journalist Chris Hedges. But it is what precisely Nicholas and Prince Andrew found. In war they found the means to fulfill their desires (one, a patriotic sentiment and the other, escape from a miserable marriage) by attending the war. Alright, so they entered the war to satisfy their desires. Nicholas Rostov enters the war believing that sacrificing for one's country is a meaningful goal.

On the contrary, Prince Andrew could care less about what others think of him. In fact, he prefers it that the people who don't understand him to fear him. Yet, his hopes of becoming a "hero" suffers a serious blow when the Russian army gets soundly beatings by the French and the diplomats still view the war as an abstract theory. The Russian army's lack of discipline also disappoints Andrew. Andrew wants to establish himself as a prominent figure in war as to give his life a meaning.

Without their realizing, the war bestows them other meanings. Nicholas Rostov never faced open hostility in his life; as he famously mused, everyone loved him and he expected the soldiers would act the same way. His belief fractures when he calls on Telyanin for stealing Denisov's purse. The officers want Nicholas' apology even though he did the right thing. The big revelation soon follows: Nicholas realizes with a shock that the enemy actually wants to kill him just because he is from the Russian Army.
The war showed Nicholas the harsh reality of life. Nicholas' social standing or vibrant, young personality does not automatically guarantee people's affections. As he lay wounded, he realizes for the first time what death entails--its voidness. Similarly, Prince Andrew impulsively aids the doctor and his wife. He regrets afterwards because while he may saved them, the action did not give him any recognition. While Andrew remains chagrined over kind behaviors, however, the reader sees that his inner thoughts return to the dying soldiers of the battlefield. The reader can hope that the horrors of war would eventually render Andrew into a more compassionate man who finds meaning in little things than in dreams of grandeur.


  1. Ji, I definitely agree with your analysis of the character's development and status during the war. To me, Tolstoy does such a good job describing Nicholas. After growing up in a safe, comfortable, and lavish style where he is loved, Nicholas enters the world of war at the age of 15. The mentality of a 15 year old, in terms of psychology, is incredibly self-centered and self-conscious. Why should he think anything other than what he did? In his mind, he is almost perfection! I found Tolstoy's accurateness with Nicholas very impressive. Thank you for your post!

  2. What writers do so well is create three dimensional characters and put them in volatile situations, and watching them react is what entrances the reader to the work. Nicholas is getting his blinds off now so to speak, the romanticism he associated with the war is now gone. Andrew in a different way though is also getting a more realistic vision of war and politics, its not all about medals and glory but about life and death.

  3. What do you mean exactly when you say that Andrew doesn't care what others think of him? I've been getting the sense that he cares a lot and that's why he wants to become a hero. But now that I think about it, maybe he is doing it completely for himself.
    I also wonder about Nicholas' reasons for going to war. Part of me thinks that he tricked himself into believing that he was going for his country when really, he went only because it was expected him.

  4. I agree with you that war brings meaning to people and Andrew’s purpose in war was to become a hero. I do feel like the meaning of being a hero changed for him once he went to war. He went from this life where he felt no purpose. He didn’t like his wife and felt no reason to live. So, he decided to go to war and was prepared to die a hero serving his country. I feel like in war the type of hero he wanted to become changed. He wanted to be recognized as somebody who formed a plan to save the army, not by somebody who died in battle. I wonder if, when he is faced with death, he will still be at peace with dying as he was when he went off to war.

  5. Do you think Nicholas's realisation is Tolstoy's way of making this a kind of bildungsroman? Nicholas was only sixteen when he enlisted in the army. Is Tolstoy trying to break through the facade of youth to show him how grown men live?

  6. I definitely agree with your summaries of how the war affects both Nicholas and Andrew and find it interesting to think about all the different messages Tolstoy is sending through these different perspectives. I can't really seem to find one total message though and was wondering if you had any ideas? He's definitely showing the ups and downs of war without really committing to condemning it since we do see Andrew living to his full potential even though we know that his ultimate goal isn't a very good one (to die a hero to escape his home life).