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Tolstoy's Themes

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     In his major works Tolstoy touches themes like importance of family life, search for the meaning of life, irrationality of human motivations, social changes in Russia in the nineteenth century.

     In Russia the genre “family novels”, which showed the benefits and comforts of family togetherness and domestic bliss, often in a very idealized way, started to fade away as many social progressives attacked the notion of family, calling it old-fashioned restraint on individual freedom.  Tolstoy showed his view on the debate in his novel Anna Karenina. In Anna Karenina Tolstoy represents family life as a source of comfort, happiness, and philosophical perfection. Anna destroyed her family and died in misery, while Levin created a family and concludes the novel happily.

     In the Russia depicted in Anna Karenina, a battle is fought between the old patriarchal values supporting the landowning aristocracy and the new, liberal values. This “war” can be seen in the difficulty Levin has with his peasants, who refuse to allow the agricultural innovations he tries to introduce, and believe that the old ways of farming are better.

     The themes of Tolstoy’s most famous work War and Peace are how irrational are human motivations in life and the search for meaning of life.

Tolstoy theme of irrationality of human motivations is shown through unexpected and illogical actions of some characters like Nicholas and Natasha who both get married to the surprise of everyone. The second theme of search for meaning of life can also be seen in action of characters like Pierre and Andrei who both start looking for meanings of their existence.