The Great Men of History Revealed in War and Peace

Powerful Essays
The Great Men of History Revealed in War and Peace

The very title War and Peace warns the reader that it is a novel of contrasts before the cover is even opened and the first chapter read. Throughout the novel, Tolstoy brings together subjects that would be antitheses in the real world in a manner that seems natural and correct. Prince Andrey finds peaceful solitude on a raging battlefield. Some of Nikolay Rostov’ s fondest memories of the army are weeks of continuous rain, mud, and cold living in dirt dugouts. Tolstoy controverts the reader’s expectations of the so-called “great men” of history. In War and Peace, Leo Nikolayevitch Tolstoy shows that the greatest men in history are the least famous from the historical perspective.

The story of War and Peace is twofold. On one level, it is the tale of group of Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars. The principle families are the Rostov family, the Bolkonsky family, the Bezuhov family, and the Kuragin family. On another level, it is the epic of two nations, France and Russia, and how their struggle encompasses all the characters.

Prince Andrey Bolkonsky and Count Nikolay Rostov both join the army and take part in a series of battles and skirmishes, including Austerlitz, where Andrey is wounded. Meanwhile, Count Pyotr Bezuhov, commonly called Pierre, marries Princess Elena Kuragin and later becomes a Freemason. Napoleon and Tsar Alexander make peace, and the first period of warfare is over.

Andrey, now retired and living in St. Petersburg, meets and becomes engaged to Countess Natasha Rostov. At the insistence of Andrey’ s father, however, the marriage is put off for a year. During that time, Natasha is all but seduced by Prince Anatole Kuragin, ...

... middle of paper ...

...tory and are triumphant. The French grow more and more despondent as the Russians refuse to flee, and so as their confidence ebbs, it is they who are pushed from the field. All this occurs without regard to the orders or intentions of Napoleon or Kutuzov, the Russian commander. History, according to Tolstoy in War and Peace, is shaped by simple, unknown men acting instinctively on their humanity, not the famous leaders known throughout history as “great” men.

Works Cited

Berlin, Isaiah. “Dilemma of History.” Critical Essays on Tolstoy. Ed. Edward Wasiolek. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1986. 104-7.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. New York: The Modern Library, 1973.

Wasiolek, Edward. “War and Peace: The Theoretical Chapters.” Modern Critical Interpretations of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. 87-103.
Get Access