Essay on "War and Peace"
A Critical Look Into Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace
In 1867 Leo Tolstoy finished working on his masterpiece War and Peace. When speaking about his novel, Tolstoy admitted that he loved and developed national idea, idea of common people who lived in Russia. The author poetizes kindness, simplicity and morality of people, and it is in people Tolstoy sees the source of morality that is necessary for the whole society (Feuer 1996, 138).
Leo Tolstoy denied the possibility of active influence of particular personality upon the history, as it is impossible to foresee and change the direction of historical events, as they depend on all people and on no one in particular. In his historical and philosophical digressions, Tolstoy envisioned the historical process as the sum which is formed from the numerous amount of arbitrary decisions, in other words of the efforts of every person. The complex of those efforts flows into the historical necessity, which cannot be abolished.
According to Tolstoy, people masses make history and its laws cannot depend upon the desire of particular historical personality. Tolstoy was sure that there are laws that manage events; they are in majority unknown to common people, though in some cases people can try to understand what is going on. And the revelation of those laws will be possible only when people will be able to turn away from searching of the results in the will of one person, as it is the same situation, as the revelation of planet movement laws became possible only when people turned away from the idea of Earth immovability. The participant of historical event cannot know meaning and value, and especially the result of his actions. And therefore no one can consciously manage historical events, and everybody should obey to spontaneous, unconscious pace, in the same manner as ancient people obeyed doom. And internal, objective meaning of the depicted events in War and Peace tightly led to realization of those consistent patterns (Koornwinder 2007).
In War and Peace common people are history creators: million masses and not heroes and commanders create history, move society forward, and create all valuable in material and spiritual life. And this idea, national idea, Tolstoy proves on the example of War of 1812. Leo Tolstoy denied war and argued with fervency with those, who found the beauty of horror in it. Tolstoy wrote the novel from patriotic standpoint. The war of 1812 in the representation of Tolstoy is the national war and author creates many images of true Russian man, soldiers, whose judgments in general constitute national attitudes. Merchant Ferapontov, for instant, is sure that French soldiers will not be allowed to Moscow, but when he realizes that Russia is falling, there is not sense in saving his possessions and he says to soldiers that they take his goods so that “devils” received nothing. During the period of serious trials, the defense of the native land becomes the common business. All novel’s characters are being checked from this side: whether they are inspired with all-national feeling, whether they are ready for heroic acts, sacrifices and dedication. In love to native land, in patriotic feeling, Andrei Bolkonsky is equal to the soldier of his regiment. But Andrei is not only inspired by the common feeling, but also can express it, analyze, understands the general trends of affairs. Soldiers are expressing their confidence in victory and readiness to die for the native land. Tolstoy aimed to describe the war of 1812 as the fair war, as the historical part in its moral and victorious part finishes in Russia and not a single event at the end of the novel takes place outside the Russian land. This is emphasized with the death of Kutuzov near the borders. There is no necessity in this national hero any more. Invading enemy, aggressor cannot be kind and modest. And therefore it is not obligatory for historians do not have to possess accurate information about the invader- he will definitely be self-assured, proud, feel superior to others, haughty and pronounce loud and empty words. The image of invading enemy is defined only with his action- his invasion. On the contrary, the defender of the motherland is modest, prays before battles and waits for assistance of higher powers and is confident in his rightness. According to Tolstoy, it is useless to oppose the natural events pace, it is useless to try to execute role of the arbiter of people’s fates. During the Battle of Borodino, which outcome was very important to Russians, Kutuzov was not making any orders and only agreed or disagreed with things that were proposed to him. In this resembling inactivity the deep wisdom of the Commander is revealed. Kutuzov knew that the outcome of the battle does not depend on the orders of Commander-in-Chief, on the place, the amount of killed and amount of canons, but depends on the elusive power, which is called the spirit of the troops. And Kutuzov was following this power, was managing it, in the extent it was possible. Kutuzov’s unification with common people makes him for the writer the ideal historical personality and ideal character. Kutuzov is always modest and simple. He is to trying to be superior to others; he is not acting and showing off. Kutuzov’s behavior is natural and author constantly emphasizes his age-related weakness. He is the expression of national wisdom in the novel. His power is in the fact that he understands and realizes what his people are worried about, and acts in correspondence with that knowledge. Tolstoy guessed and chased some true characteristics of great Russian Commander: his deep patriotic feelings, his love to Russian people and hatred to the enemy, his association with soldiers. Kutuzov was connected with common people with tight spiritual bonds, and it was his power (Koornwinder 2007).
There are two ideological centers in War and Peace: Kutuzov and Napoleon. The image of Napoleon is revealed by Tolstoy form the position of national idea. As napoleon was the aggressor, which was trying to enslave Russian people, he was also an oblique murderer of many people, this obscure activity, according to Tolstoy, did not allow him the right for grandeur. Tolstoy dethroned the legend about the Napoleon from the standpoint of true humanism. From the first appearance of Napoleon in the novel, his deeply negative character traits are being revealed. Tolstoy is making is thoroughly, pays attention to each detail, and portrays Napoleon as forty years old, fat and soft person, egotistic and haughty. In description of Napoleon’s morning toilette before the Battle of Borodino Tolstoy strengthened the character’s revelation by describing his fat back, breast, gummy yellow body, fat shoulders- all those characteristics present the person who is far from labor life, as well as far from needs of common people. Napoleon was egotistic person, presuming that the whole universe obeyed to his will. The writer with subtle irony, which is some cases is transformed to sarcasm, discloses Napoleon’s pretensions for world supremacy, along with his constant posing for history. Napoleon was acting all the time; there was nothing natural and simple in his words. It was vividly described in the scene when the Napoleon was gloating with his son’s portrait on the field of Borodino. Napoleon approached to the portrait knowing that everything he would say and do – will be the history. It was pure acting; it was nothing sincere in his words and actions. This scene brightly reveals Napoleon’s arrogance that considered that if he would conquer Moscow the whole Russia will be conquered and his world supremacy plans will be fulfilled. Tolstoy depicts Napoleon as the true player and actor in the series of further episodes. For instance on the eve of the Battle of Borodino he says: “The pieces are on the board, the play will begin tomorrow”. That “play” has taken lives of thousands of people and this reveals the bloody character of Napoleon wars, which was aiming to enslave the whole world. On the contrary, Andrei thinks that war is not the game, but the cruel necessity. He introduces principally different approach to war, introduces thoughts of common people, which is obliged to take weapon in exclusive consequences, when there is an imminence of enslavement.
To the national patriotism, Tolstoy contradistinguishes false patriotism of aristocracy. Patriotism of Moscow aristocracy consisted in eating Russian stchi and not French cuisine, and for saying French words they were fined. The image of Alexander I is not very attractive as well. Traits of duplicity and hypocrisy of aristocracy are also inherent to the Emperor’s character.
Patriotism and closeness to common people are very common to Pierre Bezukhov, Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova. National war of 1812 contained enormous moral power that purified and renewed Tolstoy’s favorite characters, burnt out their soles class prejudices, the feeling of superiority to other common people. In the patriotic war the destiny of Andrei follows the same way, as the one of the people. He is loved and being proud by his troops. He starts to see that the true person’s predestination is in serving his people. Encounter with Natasha Rostova and his tender love to her, clearly reveals to Andrei that transforming plans of cold and self-assured Speransky cannot make Andrei happier and better. That was the first time that national point of view was introduced as the criteria to his consciousness.
Common Russian soldiers also played outstanding decisive role in life of Pierre Bezukhov and greatly affected his soul. After that he makes the decision to change, to reconstruct his life. He obtained the inward peace and confidence in the sense of life after the heroic times of 1812s and after suffering in captivity along with common people, with Platon Karataev. And he experienced the feeling of his vanity and falsehood compared to the truth, simplicity and power of those common people.
Positive character traits of Natasha Rostova with particular brightness are revealed in the moment, when she, before French entered Moscow, inspired with patriotic feeling, decided to take wounded people to their wagon and also when she in the happy and joyful moment with Russian dance and admiration with Russian music reveals all power of her national spirit. It is the process of liberation for her soul from false common ideals. The image of Natasha depicts one of the main ideas of the novel: there is no beauty and happiness, where there is no good, simplicity and truth.
In novel War and Peace each characters image is undividable with his language characteristics. Language of aristocracy is full of French words; expressions are elegant, though standard and are used during the conservation on any occasion. It is important to understand that Leo Tolstoy was the great appreciator of Russian language and in accordance with the speech and word choice of the characters it is possible to judge author’s attitude to them. His favorite characters do not speak French Russian.
Novel War and Peace describes factual events of the war of 1812. In the novel Tolstoy revealed true historical events from the standpoint of Russian people- aristocracy, soldiers, commanders. He succeeded in capturing the true meaning of the war for common people. All characters in the novel are well-thought and brightly revealed; each of them has its own story, its own way and transformation. Tolstoy knew that life of common people with its fates, interests and joys, does not depend on meetings of Napoleon and Alexander I, diplomatic games or state plans of Speransky. Only those historical events that move masses, affect national destinies, are able to change, even dramatically, but always in the positive way, the individual. This is how characters in the novel are purified and elevated. Each character, each participant is not less important for the author then Napoleon. The direction of will of millions of people, which from the point of view of Napoleon and the historical science of that time were of infinitely tiny units, define world historical events.
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