Monday, December 8, 2014

Tolstoy, Gandhi, and the Age of Dissonance

An unexplored fact about Leo Tolstoy is that he was always fascinated with Indian culture and the Hindu religion. He even wrote “A Letter to A Hindu”, outlining his theological and philosophical perception of the Hindu vedas and responding to Mahatma Gandhi’s pleas for support in the Indian Nationalist Movement. Reading about this introduced me to the idea that Tolstoy had a wealth of knowledge about Hinduism- knowledge that inevitably must have pervaded his writing.

Music and Dance can been seen prevalently throughout Tolstoy’s novel- in the scene with the ballroom dance, in Natasha’s dance at uncle’s, and in Nicholas and Sonya’s dance. In Indian culture, dance or ‘tandav’ is often used to express anger, or war. So could the recurring theme of music and dance be an allegorical reference to the novel’s title, “War and Peace”? Music and dance have a long history in Indian culture in depicting emotions and stories. Classical Indian dances like the Odissi and Bharatnatyam use expressions and body language to highlight peaceful and angry emotions. Is it intentional then that the book’s many emotionally charged scenes unfold at dances and parties? In my opinion, the scene where Natasha decides that she loves Anatole is one of the most emotionally charged, and also takes place at a dance. Perhaps this was a subconscious effort to introduce dramatic flair to her dilemma.


Tolstoy’s own experiences have clearly painted a lot of his writings, and his interest in Hindu culture is not exempt from that. Dance and Music, War and Peace, Lust and Love- all merge into a single metaphor by the end of the novel, and culminate in what is a testament to all of Tolstoy’s life experiences.

Sources:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7176/7176-h/7176-h.htm

9 comments:

  1. Wow. That's really interesting and I had no idea. I defiantly agree with the idea this book and really all his works are part of him. They tell about his life and interests. We see it in Pierre and Nicholas, they reflective his problems and questions and personality.

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    1. You're right! I think all authors subconsciously put parts of them into their works, and Tolstoy was no exception.

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  2. I understand what you're saying in a sense that Tolstoy does uses dances as a place to show certain characters' emotions. But, I was lost with the connection to the Indian dances. Could you further explain that?

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    1. Tolstoy was very interested in Hinduism and had read a lot of Hindu religious texts. Dance and music is a huge part of Hindu religion and culture, and many god's and deities have either of these attributed to them (in different forms). What I was trying to put across was that perhaps Tolstoy's knowledge of Hindu culture and the role of dance in it, led him to perceive dance as representative of war. That would mean that war was represented by dance, and peace was represented by music, and just as music and dance must coexist, so must War and Peace. I was trying to juxtapose his pairing of war and peace with the pairing of music and dance that repeatedly shows up throughout the book. I hope I explained it well enough!

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  3. Thank you for teaching me something new! I had no idea Tolstoy and Gandhi had a connection. It just shows Tolstoy's wide reach and influence as well as his broad use of resources and influences.

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  4. I had no idea that Tolstoy was so heavily influenced by Hindu culture. I wonder what he was exposed to or what made him become so interested in it?

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