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MonkeyNotes-War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
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THEMES

‘The Evil effects of War’ is the significant theme of the novel. War forms the backdrop of the novel and thus, it influences the lives of the characters in the novel. Napoleon invades Russia to satiate his ego and justifies his action as necessity. Aleksandr participates in the war because he has to repel the attack of the enemy. Thus, the war begins and continues for seven long years. As the leaders vie with one another to assert their identity, young men show patriotism and fight for their country. In the process, the leaders become powerful but people lose their lives and wreck their families. In the novel, the central characters participate in the war and risk their lives fighting against the enemy. In return, they get disillusioned and bring anguish to their families.

Prince Andrei bids goodbye to his pregnant wife to participate in battles against France in Austria. He fights valiantly and repels the attack of the enemy courageously. In the battle of Austerlitz, he gets wounded and is taken to the hospital in the enemy camp. He realizes the futility of war and the insignificance of man in comparison to the vast nature. Later, when he returns home, he is just in time to see his wife dying. Tortured with guilt, he turns bitter. Later, after Natasha betrays his love for him, he returns back to the battlefield in frustration. He puts up a brave fight against the enemy but gets fatally injured in the battle of Borodino. He returns home only to die and distress his loved ones. Nikolai keeps going back to the battlefield and causes concern to his parents. The Count gets involved in financial difficulties and the Countess falls sick. Sonya keeps waiting for him to return back and marry her. Petya follows his footsteps and infused with patriotism, charges against the enemy only to become a victim to their bullets. At the age of fifteen, he loses his precious life and leaves his parents bereft.

The war not only kills people, it razes cities to the ground and destroys beautiful monuments. Thus, Napoleon and his troops invade Moscow and plunder it. Buildings are burnt and structures are destroyed. Residents are made to abandon the city and find shelter elsewhere. Thus, while the city is ruined, the lives of its citizens are displaced. War is evil and only creates pain, misery and insecurity.


The other two Themes of ‘Suffering Ennobling Human beings’ and ‘Poetic Justice’ need also to be considered. Joy and Suffering are part and parcel of life. When a person undergoes pain, he understands the value of pleasure all the more. This same logic holds good for the characters of the novel. Pierre acquires wealth and position and also marries a beautiful girl. However, these possessions give him neither peace of mind nor happiness. His wealth lures Ellen towards him and Ellen betrays his trust and spoils his life. He feels neglected and isolated. In frustration, he takes to drinking and wastes his life. To make matters worse, after using his wealth, Ellen decides to divorce him. Pierre is revolted by her attitude and runs away to Moscow just before the enemy invades the city. Shortly afterwards, he is taken a prisoner by the French soldiers. Once again insecurity haunts him. Pain and deprivation become his companions. However, instead of turning bitter, he starts understanding the value of life and looks forward to leading life fruitfully. On his release from imprisonment, he is an enlightened man who is at peace with himself. Thus, ennobled, he is successful in finding his love and happiness. Andrei, Natasha and princess Marya also get purged through suffering and evolve as better human beings.

If the silent sufferer wins, the callous sinner suffers. Poetic Justice prevails for the characters of the novel. Princess Marya endures the tyranny of her father and fulfills her tiring responsibilities patiently. For her endurance and perseverance, she is finally rewarded. She marries the man she loves and enjoys the security of a loving family. Natasha and Pierre, for all their struggles of life, find happiness at last. On the other hand, Ellen leads a selfish life. She exploits her husband’s power and position, to attract men and enjoy life. She makes Pierre’s life miserable, while making her life colorful. However, she is unable to continue the life of duplicity for long. Her recklessness causes her frustration and leads to her death. Anatol also plays with the sentiments of people and exploits their innocence for his pleasure. He betrays Natasha and escapes the punishment of Andrei by enlisting in the army. However, fate punishes him. After the battle of Borodino, he loses his leg and experiences pain and anguish before breathing his last.

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