Leo Tolstoy's Handji Murat

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Hadji Murat, Tolstoy’s second book with the Caucasus as its setting can be considered a work of historical fiction that is a beautiful tale of resistance, and a window into not only the Caucasian War of the mid-nineteenth century, but also the culture of the Russian Empire during this period. As a work of fiction the reader must be wary of depictions of actual persons such as Tsar Nicholas I, whom Tolstoy was not enamored with, to say the least, but many insights about the period and its people can be gleaned from the story. The novel is one of great contrasts between Chechens and Russians and also of what life was like during this time.
Tolstoy’s emphasizes deeply with the Chechen people as he details their suffering at the hands of the Russians. Through Hadji Murat we get to know the people of the Caucasus and their peaceful existence, followed by the depiction of a brutal Russian raid on a Chechen village. The Russians burn the food reserves of the town, kill livestock, and raze many of the buildings as well. The structures that are not completely destroyed are defiled by the Russian troops, including the village’s mosque. Even the well is fouled. The village chosen by the Russians was the same that gave hospitality to Hadji Murat at the beginning of the novel. Sado, the man who offered his home to Hadji Murat returns to find it destroyed and his son dead, bayoneted in the back by the Russians. The outrage that Tolstoy must have felt in writing this is palpable, played out in the unimaginable hatred that the Chechen villagers feel towards the Russians. To Tolstoy, this feeling of hatred towards the Russians was just as natural a feeling a feeling as the feeling of self-preservation (Tolstoy p85). Like the thistle in the opening of the novel these people would not submit until destroyed. These villagers are left with task of rebuilding and then choosing to continue to resist and have the same thing occur again, or to submit to the destroyers and defilers of their home. They decide to ask Shamil for help, revealing one of Tolstoy’s messages in Hadji Murat; that oppression and violence will only breed more dissent.
The brutal attacks by Russian soldiers can also be likened to Nicholas I’s suppression of dissent in the rest of the Russian empire, particularly political dissent. When he was deciding on the public punishment of a...

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...ther Akim had apparently done the same the night before the chapter he appears in takes place.
Being a work of fiction, the characterization of people and events in Hadji Murat is largely a product of Tolstoy’s own imagination. This does not, however, take away from his message, from the story, or from truths about Russian culture found in the novel. Tolstoy believed strongly in nonviolence, which is evident in his message about oppression; that it only breeds more dissent and resentment. The thistle in the opening sold its life so dearly in its attempt at self preservation, and the Chechen villagers’ hate of the “Russian dogs” is said by Tolstoy to be just as strong, they would fight just as hard as that simple thistle did. Aside from Tolstoy’s message and any biases he had against any of the historical figures in his novel, his book is a wealth of information about stratified Russian society from the top to the bottom, making it very valuable in the study of Russian history and culture.

Works Cited
Moss, Walter G.. A History of Russia, Volume I: To 1917 (Second Edition). Wimbledon Publishing Company, London. 2002.
Tolstoy, Leo. Hadji Murat. Hesperus Press Limited, London. 2004.

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