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Analytical Essay on War and Peace: History of Creation and Main Characters

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In 1863, Leo Tolstoy began writing a novel simply named ‘1805’, intending to focus on the Napoleonic wars and later, the Decembrist revolt after the death of Tsar Alexander I. By the end of 1863, however, Tolstoy ended up with a 900 page manuscript focusing on, largely, five wealthy Russian families, the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins and, to a lesser extent, the Drubetskoys. The novel began to be serialised in the newspaper The Russian Messenger in 1865, although Tolstoy wasn’t happy with it. He allowed the rest to be published but rewrote almost the entire novel between 1866 and 1869, when he considered it ready for publication. So, in 1869, Leo Tolstoy published the seminal piece of literature Voyna i Mir, or War and Peace.

One of the most interesting parts of the novel is Tolstoy’s philosophical commentary, which is prevalent throughout the whole of the novel, but particularly the second half. An understanding of Tolstoy’s philosophical and religious beliefs is quintessential to understanding a lot of the characters and why Tolstoy made certain decisions.

The novel begins at a soiree, hosted by an aging socialite named Anna Pavlovna. It is here that the reader is introduced to two of the novel’s main characters, and two of the main characters who Tolstoy uses to express his own philosophical beliefs, Pierre Bezukhov and Andrei Bolkonsky. Pierre and Andrei are foil characters and lifelong friends. Pierre struggles a lot with the meaning of life, he spends the first hundred pages gambling, drinking and eventually getting exiled from Moscow. Andrei also struggles with what it means to be human, but in a vastly different way to Pierre – Andrei is married and his wife pregnant, but he is extremely unhappy, despite having ‘settled down’. The other most important character for analysing Tolstoy’s philosophical beliefs is Andrei’s sister, Maria. She is a deeply religious young woman who cares for her aging father on their estate in Smolensk, far away from Moscow and the rest of the main characters. Her religion guides her life, and she ends up becoming one of the most important characters, despite having a minor role in the beginning, after helping to raise Andrei’s son after his wife dies in childbirth.

Since War and Peace is such a human novel, analysing Tolstoy’s other intentions when reading it is equally as important. One of the main ones was Tolstoy’s original intention, an accurate depiction of war. In a letter to his sister, Tolstoy asked her for any firsthand accounts of the Napoleonic wars that she may have, and later on, Tolstoy interviewed veterans who actually fought in the wars in order to depict it as accurately as possible. This was clearly very important to Tolstoy, as he fought in the Crimean war and therefore nows what fighting is like, which allows him to develop an even more accurate portrayal of war. Tolstoy also found it important to focus on individuals from the wealthy families too, and these parts make up the ‘peace’ section of the novel. Natasha Rostova is one of the most beloved characters in all of literature, and she’s easily one of the most important characters in this section. When the reader meets her, she has just turned 13, but over the course of the novel, the reader sees her grow up and by the end of the novel, she’s married with children. For Tolstoy, focusing on individual people is very important and it’s what makes this novel so human.

We are surprised that Pierre was involved. Princess Maria, the sister of Pierre’s closest friend Andrei, says ‘he seems to me to have an excellent heart, […] so young and burdened with this wealth, what temptations will he have to resist’, which shows that the other characters generally speak positively of Pierre, and they understand that he is just misguided.

Pierre’s struggles, like Tolstoy’s, change as he ages throughout the novel, and he begins to question what it means to be human. In his 1999 article Microcosm and Macrocosm in War and Peace, Andrew D. Kaufman writes that Tolstoy ‘was fascinated throughout his lifetime with the problem of how human beings search for unifying order in a chaotic world’, a trait that Pierre definitely reflects as well. Pierre’s character development hits its peak at the end of book eight, when Pierre sees the Great Comet of 1811-12, a comet that was said to be able to ‘portend all kinds of woes and the end of the world’. Pierre, on the other hand, ‘gazed joyfully, his eyes moist with tears’. In fact, Pierre is so affected by the comet’s brilliance that Tolstoy states ‘it seemed to Pierre that this comet fully responded to what was passing in his own softened and uplifted soul, now blossoming into a new life’. Pierre’s epiphany in this scene is one of the most important scenes in the entire novel, and forms the foundation of Pierre’s character for the rest of the novel.

Overall, Pierre’s character is extremely important into understanding how Tolstoy explores what it means to be human in the novel. Since Pierre is based on Tolstoy himself, looking at his character is extremely important into understanding how Tolstoy saw the world, even if it’s from the perspective from one of his characters. A critic named Nicholas Chernychevsky uses the term ‘vnutrennyi monolog’ – or, ‘interior monologue’ – to explain how Tolstoy depicts the world presented in War and Peace. This can be seen in characters such as Pierre because Tolstoy uses him to present his own ideas on philosophy and the universe.

Another important character in understanding Tolstoy’s motives behind the novel is Andrei Bolkonsky, a prince, veteran and lifelong friend of Pierre who is arguably one of the most important characters in the novel. In 1969, critic Laura Jepsen wrote an article where she discusses how War and Peace can be read as a Homeric style epic, with Andrei as the hero. According to Jepsen, Tolstoy himself called it the ‘new Iliad’, and If Andrei is the hero of Tolstoy’s epic, he’s definitely a tragic one. Jepsen likens Andrei to something of a ‘Christian hero’ as well, and Tolstoy had written that he had intended for him to die on the battlefield, but he was spared from that fate and instead died at home after an injury. Interestingly, in the original version of War and Peace that was serialised, Andrei actually survived, but Tolstoy was not happy with this version, as he thought that he had to die in order for the story to progress.

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In an article called Injury, Pain and Change in War and Peace, Gary Rosenshield discusses how Tolstoy ‘employs the shock of physical pain as a catalyst for his characters’ spiritual illumination or later growth’, particularly through the characters of Nikolai and Andrei, as they are the two main characters who go to war, and suffer because of it. Andrei’s first injury, in 1805, is a serious blow to the head, and both he and the doctors think he is dying. As he lies on the battlefield, Andrei ponders life and death, and the quote ‘Prince Andrei mused on the insignificance of greatness, on the insignificance of human life, the meaning of which no one could understand, and most of all the insignificance of death, which no living person could make sense of or explain’ is important because it is where Andrei and a Homeric hero differ. Achilles spent his entire life pursuing eternal glory, and although he died on the battlefield, he died a hero and obtained the kleos, or reputation, that he desired. Andrei, on the other hand, ponders his insignificance, as in his mind, he was just another dead soldier out of the thousands who had died in the Napoleonic wars at that point, despite making a full recovery afterwards.

The most important part about Andrei’s first injury at Austerlitz, is that it gives him a reason to live. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, Andrei stares up at the sky and every time, hopes that he will wake up and be able to see the sky one more. For the first time in the novel, Andrei displays a clear will to live. However, Rosenshield writes that ‘when the pain is gone, the revelations stop, and the insights that he thought he gained at Austerlitz make life no more manageable or comprehensible’. In fact, Rosenshield argues that in the weeks leading up to the battle of Borodino, Andrei is even more cynical than he was before, seeing his fellow soldiers as nothing more than ‘cannon fodder’. During this battle, Andrei is severely injured by shell fragments in the stomach, but this time, when he is drifting in and out of consciousness, there are no visions of recovery or dreams about the sky. Andrei is sent home, where he eventually dies under the care of Maria and Natasha.

Overall, Andrei’s character is important to discussing philosophy in the novel because he is the complete antithesis of Pierre – Pierre’s revelations give him a will to live, and shape his character for the rest of the novel. Andrei’s, on the other hand, may have offered him solace temporarily, but ultimately, when he’s actually faced with his own mortality, he loses the will to live and even the sky can’t save him from his fate.

Finally, Prince Andrei’s sister, Princess Maria, is extremely important when discussing philosophy, and particularly religion. Although most of the characters are presented as religious in one way or another, it is clear that Maria is the most devout, and although she isn’t a direct presentation of Tolstoy’s own religious beliefs, it is interesting to explore how his religion presents itself later in life.

Leo Tolstoy was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church, but lost his religion when he was around 18. However, in the late 1860s and 1870s, Tolstoy went through a massive spiritual and religious change, and became something of a ‘Christian anarchist’, wherein he held anarchist beliefs for topics such as the state and the ownership of property, but he was still very much a pacifist, writing a book called The King of God is Within You in 1894, which is still used as a major text for Christians and anarchists alike, and influenced people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In 1901, Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russina Orthodox Church because of his religious beliefs, as although he was a Christian, he disliked organised religion, and was not shy about his distaste for the church.

Princess Maria’s religion is much more traditional than Tolstoy’s was, but nonetheless, her faith is an extremely important part of her character and contains hints of Tolstoy’s own faith as it develops throughout his life. In a letter to her friend Julie Karagin, Maria writes ‘oh, if we had no religion to console us, life would be so very sad’, showing how she uses her religion as a comfort, because compared to the other characters, she is very lonely, and lives far away from where the bulk of the novel takes place in Moscow. Andrei and Maria’s mother died when they were young, definitely before 1805, when the first book takes place, when Maria is 20 and Andrei slightly older, and when the reader first meets her she’s caring for her aging father on their estate in Smolensk, whilst Andrei is away fighting in the Napoleonic wars. As a result of this, it can be inferred that Maria had to grow up fairly quickly, dealing with the death of her mother and then the deteriorating health of her father, and that religion is the one constant in her life, explaining why her faith is so important to her.

However, according to an article by Anne Eakin Moss called Tolstoy’s politics of love, Maria is also used to discuss how Tolstoy presents close friendships between women. She cites the quote ‘one of these tender and passionate friendships that can exist only between women’, which Tolstoy used to describe the relationship between Maria and Natasha. Moss argues that the friendship between the two women can be described as ‘an apotheosis of Tolstoy’s lifelong literary and moral search for the complete understanding of another human being, unburdened by social, economic or biological demands’, and she follows this up by saying ‘in the context of Tolstoy’s politics, it represents a sanctuary against the ‘alienating’ forces of modernity symbolised in War and Peace’. Essentially, Moss argues that the friendship between two women, represented by, among others, Maria and Natasha offers an iteration of love in its purest form, and one unburdened by the outside world.

However, it can also be argued that one of Tolstoy’s main motives behind writing the novel was to create an accurate portrayal of war, as he was dissatisfied with historiography at the time. The first chapter of book three is essentially an essay about Tolstoy’s disdain for modern historians, such as when Tolstoy is discussing rising crime rates and states that ‘historians, with naive assurance’ analyse the reasons behind it in completely the wrong way. ‘Naive assurance’ suggests that the historians aren’t trying to deceive people, they just understand or an.

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Analytical Essay on War and Peace: History of Creation and Main Characters. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/analytical-essay-on-war-and-peace-history-of-creation-and-main-characters/
“Analytical Essay on War and Peace: History of Creation and Main Characters.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/analytical-essay-on-war-and-peace-history-of-creation-and-main-characters/
Analytical Essay on War and Peace: History of Creation and Main Characters. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/analytical-essay-on-war-and-peace-history-of-creation-and-main-characters/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Analytical Essay on War and Peace: History of Creation and Main Characters [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/analytical-essay-on-war-and-peace-history-of-creation-and-main-characters/
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