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Analysis on Defamiliarization Existent in Leo Tolstoy’s

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In Kholstomer – The Story of a Horse, Leo Tolstoy uses an animal’s point of view as a method to increase the exquisiteness of the piece wherein Kholstomer suffered an unfortunate life as a horse because he was being physically and emotionally tormented. This approach is known as defamiliarization which tends to defamiliarize the familiar settings, or words to either hide something or the author wants his/her readers to give a wide range of perspective about the different angles or corners of a certain story or piece.

Tolstoy describes Kholstomer (Strider the horse) by uplifting his morally good traits which gives him an edge with the other horses as the story started.

“Of all the horses in the enclosure (there were about a hundred of them), a piebald gelding, standing by himself in a corner under the penthouse and licking an oak post with half-closed eyes, displayed least impatience.”

Early morning is actually the beginning and for the other horses to get the man’s attention, they kept on pushing the gate which oppositely irritates the man. On the other side, Tolstoy presented the horse with a simple yet intelligent act. Instead of using patient as an adjective, the author uses least impatient to add up a bit of reality to be explored.

This trait of Kholstomer is being addressed also when the horse once says “Suffering for the pleasure of others is nothing new to me. I have even begun to find a certain equine pleasure in it.” This is how Tolstoy tries to elevate the attribute of the horse however produces a sense of empathy to the readers. With this, the existence of defamiliarized texts strengthens.

The text above is a scene that points out Nester riding on the horse’s back. It’s tough but he’s used to it. This saddle and Nester is like a heavy clump of pains and problems torturing him, to give up. But the horse who’s familiar and usually suffering it, seems to play the game this pain had prepared for him.

“Nester scratched him under the neck, in response to which the gelding expressed his gratitude and satisfaction by closing his eyes. ‘He likes it, the old dog!’ muttered Nester. The gelding however did not really care for the scratching at all and pretended that it was agreeable merely out of courtesy.” Oddly supported the horse’s statement that he’s used to support the satisfaction of others but oppositely is not significant for him because “The whole world was changed in my eyes. Nothing mattered any more” he once says.

This exhibits the changes made by the horse’s stormy days, which molded him in the way he is now and not before. This is Toltoy’s way to forward his message through defamiliarized things, to burst out emotions, to make an art of it as he supported Viktor Shklovsky, a 20th Century Russian literary critic, “defamiliarization is, more or less, the point of all art. Art makes language strange, as well as the world that the language presents.”

“But suddenly Nester, quite unexpectedly and without any reason, perhaps imagining that too much familiarity might give the gelding a wrong idea of his importance…” means that Nester stopped from what his doing with the horse (scratching his lower neck) because the horse might see his importance to the men so he “pushed the gelding’s head away from himself without any warning and, swinging the bridle, struck him painfully with the buckle on his lean leg, and then without saying a word went up the hillock to a tree-stump beside which he generally seated himself” which he did to divert and change the horse’s perceptions.

As the story continues, several struggles was being faced by Khlostomer, being belittled by other horses and being teased ; “The filly wheeled round as if to kick him.” The fillies in the story were acknowledged as famous horses with proud pedigrees. “The gelding opened his eyes and stepped aside. He did not want to sleep any more and began to graze. The mischief-maker, followed by her companions, again approached the gelding. A very stupid two-year-old white-spotted filly who always imitated the chestnut in everything went up with her and, as imitators always do, went to greater lengths than the instigator. The chestnut always went up as if intent on business of her own and passed by the gelding’s nose without looking at him, so that he really did not know whether to be angry or not, and that was really funny.” In this part, a clear vision of comparison between Kholstomer and the fillies, the young. The privileged and unprivileged. The biased ideologies imbedded on the horses’ society reflect on the human’s society as well.

This passage had degraded the olds so much but Tolstoy returned it back leaving “Old age is sometimes majestic, sometimes ugly, and sometimes pathetic. But old age can be both ugly and majestic, and the gelding’s old age was just of that kind.” To still up lifts the underestimated old, which doesn’t only pertains to the age of the horse but in a general aspects or issue.

After this line, the author had highlighted again the condition of the horse, “His forelegs were crooked to a bow at the knees, there were swellings over both hoofs, and on one leg, on which the piebald spot reached half-way down, there was a swelling at the knee as big as a fist” showed how far this horse had been, either good or bad because of its marks and scars left, which still appeared on the horse’s physical attributes.

Toltoy’s also added a descriptive passage for the gelding :

“ His spots were black, or rather they had been black, but had now turned a dirty brown. He had three spots, one on his head, starting from a crooked bald patch on the side of his nose and reaching half-way down his neck. His long mane, filled with burrs, was white in some places and brownish in others. Another spot extended down his off side to the middle of his belly; the third, on his croup, touched part of his tail and went half-way down his quarters. The rest of the tail was whitish and speckled.” The author’s intent is to highlight spots because it is one of the most distinct traits of the piebald.

“…when one saw him, and an expert would have said at once that he had been a remarkably fine horse in his day. The expert would even have said that there was only one breed in Russia that could furnish such breadth of bone, such immense knees, such hoofs, such slender cannons, such a well-shaped neck, and above all such a skull, such eyes – large, black, and clear – and such a thoroughbred network of veins on head and neck, and such delicate skin and hair.”

The one telling this tries to present the attractive qualities of a horse in the views of an expert. But the author once raised a question : “But was it the old gelding’s fault that he was old, poor, and ugly?” And the answers followed as well;

“One might think not, but in equine ethics it was, and only those were right who were strong, young, and happy – those who had life still before them, whose every muscle quivered with superfluous energy, and whose tails stood erect. Maybe the piebald gelding himself understood this and in his quiet moments was ready to agree that it was his fault that he had already lived his life, and that he had to pay for that life, but after all he was a horse and often could not suppress a sense of resentment, sadness, and indignation when he looked at those youngsters who tormented him for what would befall them all at the end of their lives.”

But this kind of praises and description changed when the horse started to have a continuous passage of his points and perceptions. Tolstoy gives way for the horse to clear things out, on why he’s suffering such grief and pain. And what’s actually the root of everything. This stage presents the Romanticism after the breakage of the gelding’s life on the previous texts.

On the first night, other horses had lean their ears to the gelding as the horse is trying to share something that is full of bitter-sweet-bitter stories of his.

He tells everything from his birth up to his energy-losing battles. The unknown pedigree of him was answered as he said “Yes, I am the son of Affable I and of Baba. My pedigree name is Muzhik.”

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At the very beginning of his life, he already suffered humiliation from men.

‘Look at him – the little devil!’ but doesn’t understand everything because he’s innocent. Afterward, after living in a separation the brood mares with his mother, Baba, he saw the different mares and their foals. In contradictory with men’s treatment of him, the gelding had received admiration from others but started to lose the love of his mother for sexual reasons. In this case, another problem arises.

A mother was defined as “a person who protects and nourishes her child” but Baba (gelding’s mother) jumps over this responsibility to have another child. That is the manifestation of the gelding, “And it’s all because I am piebald!” blaming everything to himself without knowing the reasons, but maybe the factor that makes this is the gelding’s innocence that still needs maturation.

But when the mother and the son had truly separated from each other, the gelding was then transferred in a place with another female horse which was named as Darling, which the he fell infatuated at. But he had this “unfortunate period of love” because they castrate him as the emperor ordered his men. He realized that everything around him are fools, but still can’t explain it to himself because of his state.

“My being piebald, which aroused such curious contempt in men, my terrible and unexpected misfortune, and also my peculiar position in the stud farm which I felt but was unable to explain made me retire into myself. I pondered over the injustice of men, who blamed me for being piebald; I pondered on the inconstancy of mother-love and feminine love in general and on its dependence on physical conditions; and above all I pondered on the characteristics of that strange race of animals with whom we are so closely connected, and whom we call men – those characteristics which were the source of my own peculiar position in the stud farm, which I felt but could not understand.”

On the next paragraphs, Toltoys had left this good short passage which can be seen before until now : “ men are guided in life not by deeds but by words.” The horse of course cannot understand this, but he’s sure about one thing, that them (horses) are quite better than men in terms of deeds. This line simply means that men give importance to something they own, a property rather, but it’s hard for them to take actions or to take good care of it as if it’s their responsibility to keep it, because it’s something that they own. They only

give significance to the word “my” or “mine” but not with the obligations woven in it.

“For instance, many of those who called me their horse did not ride me, quite other people rode me; nor did they feed me – quite other people did that. Again it was not those who called me *their* horse who treated me kindly, but coachmen, veterinaries, and in general quite other people. Later on, having widened my field of observation, I became convinced that not only as applied to us horses, but in regard to other things, the idea of mine has no other basis than a low, mercenary instinct in men, which they call the feeling or right of property. A man who never lives in it says ‘my house’ but only concerns himself with its building and maintenance; and a tradesman talks of ‘my cloth business’ but has none of his clothes made of the best cloth that is in his shop.”

The author revealed a comparison through the experience of the horse itself. In such cases wherein the horse, doesn’t even feel importance from the people who acknowledge the horse as theirs.

On the fourth night of the horse’s story, an unjust treatment between him and other horses are being tackled and on how found a love, with a man who does not possess love at all, this sentence seems ironic.

“The happiest years of my life I spent with the officer of hussars. Though he was the cause of my ruin, and though he never loved anything or anyone, I loved and still love him for that very reason.” The fifth night showed the blue conclusion of his story as described by the author ;

The gelding joins a race and luckily win, group of men asks the prince of bucks but the prince resisted. But after all of these, the horse was being tormented:

“For the first time I fell out of step and felt ashamed and wished to correct it, but suddenly I heard the prince shout in an unnatural voice: ‘Get on!’ The whip whistled through the air and cut me, and I galloped, striking my foot against the iron front of the sledge. We overtook her after going sixteen miles. I got him there but trembled all night long and could not eat anything. In the morning they gave me water. I drank it and after that was never again the horse that I had been. I was ill, and they tormented me and maimed me – doctoring me, as people call it. My hoofs came off, I had swellings and my legs grew bent; my chest sank in and I became altogether limp and weak. I was sold to a horse-dealer who fed me on carrots and something else and made something of me quite unlike myself, though good enough to deceive one who did not know. My strength and my pace were gone.”

The horse only suffered torture after everything. He become weaker and his flesh are already bad. Until he ended up his story.

After that, the horse’s point of view was cut down, and someone take the responsibility, the mood already changes which already presented an angle of a conversation of the host, his guest and the hostess. The guest was the Prince (Mr. Serpukhovskoy) and was recognized by Strider.

This part of the story depicts the old and unfavorable changes the prince had taken.

“Nikita Serpukhovskoy, their guest, was a man of over forty, tall, stout, bald-headed, with heavy moustaches and whiskers. He must once have been very handsome but had now evidently sunk physically, morally, and financially.”

However, the Gelding and the old prince’s ending are partly the same but extreme different endings.

The horse was killed by the knackers after slitting his neck, but his skin was being used up, and his flesh was being shared by a family wolves. At this part, the mother fox let the youngest cub to eat first, ‘til everyone get their part. Which is absolutely a contrasting scenarios between Baba, who was labeled as a mother, but then her hearts beats for not a parent to the gelding. Latly, the bones of this horse are being collected by the bones collector outside the barn. In simple words, this horse live and died, benefiting others. On the other scenario where Nikita, the prince died, he live to wander the earth, died being covered with earth which pertains to the land or soil.

In conclusion, the story focuses more on the struggle of the protagonist, Strider or Kholstomer, but ended with the death of Nikita Serpukhovskoy. But still, Leo Tolstoy, as an advocate of Defamiliarization, uses the horse’s points and perceptions to hide his real purpose. The reason why the author uses defamiliarized words using the horse’s view is that, appreciating something but faces the one side only isn’t appreciating at all. To have a new perception about something, taking it from the other side will balance your views and opinions. Such like in this case, seeing a horse is such a normal thing, but livin’ like a horse is actually a hard thing.

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Analysis on Defamiliarization Existent in Leo Tolstoy’s. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from
“Analysis on Defamiliarization Existent in Leo Tolstoy’s.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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