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Theme Analysis

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     Tolstoy’s major work War and Peace is a historical novel that records the chaotic events in Russia during the era of Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century. Focusing on an upper-class way of life that had already started to die away by the time that Tolstoy started to write the book in the 1860s. The story follows lives of several Russian families before and after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

     One of the themes that Tolstoy explores in War and Peace is the illogicality of human motivation. Tolstoy accentuates on the irrational motivation for human actions during peace and war.  General Kutuzov comes out as a great leader not because he creates a logical plan and then demands that everyone follow it, but rather because he is prepared to adjust to the flow of events and think on his feet. He corrects his plan as each stage turns out to be greatly different from what was estimated. Also irrational actions include Nicholas’s unexpected decision to marry Mary after previously deciding to go back to Sonya, and Natasha’s unexpected marriage to Pierre. However, almost all the irrational actions seen in the novel turn out favorably.

     Another theme explored in War and Peace is the search for the meaning of life. Some characters in War and Peace experience unexpected revelations about the absurdity of life. Andrei, for example, has a close to-death experience at Austerlitz that shows him a glance of the truth behind the falseness of everyday life. Andrei needs a meeting with death to bring on this divine revelation.

     Pierre spends the largest part of the novel questioning why his life is so empty and false. The direct cause of Pierre’s questioning is his marriage to the wrong woman. Pierre’s participation in the spiritual practice of Freemasonry represents his effort to give meaning to his life. Tolstoy, however, shows the insufficiency of this approach, as Pierre grows dissatisfied with the Masons and frustrated with their passivity. What at last gives meaning to Pierre’s life is the encounter of true love with Natasha Rostova.