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War And Peace
(Leo Tolstoy)


Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is considered to be an epic in the form of a novel. The theme, its characters and the scenes of actions surpass epic proportions indeed. With such a vast canvass from Paris to Moscow and one of the most turbulent periods of European history, i.e., the early nineteenth century and characters like Napoleon, the great Russian General Marshal Kutuzov and the Russian emperor, it is not easy for one to find out the theme of the novel. Can Truth and Justice prevail in human civilization? The answer given by Tolstoy is in the affirmative. And that is the theme of ?War and Peace?.

Napoleon, proclaiming himself to be the harbinger of equality, liberty and fraternity, could conquer continental Europe easily. The legendary Kutuzov, having fallen into disfavour with the Czar, has retired to the countryside. And Napoleon enters the Russian empire with his invincible army. Strangely, the people of Russia refuse to accept a foreigner on their soil as ruler. For the first time Napoleon meets a hostile population but he advances and is nearing Moscow. Now the emperor needs the help of Kutuzov because he alone can inspire the army to fight back. The informal and slovenly Kutuzov is actually a great general who will lay down his life before any one else and that is why he commands such a great respect from his soldiers. But Kutuzov does not seek fame and name. He is a practical down to earth soldier who knows that no army in history is invincible at all times and retreat is a part of the war. Having given a taste of his knowledge of warfare in the Battle of Borodino, where the French army meets the first resistance and heavy casualties, Kutuzov withdraws and advises the Mayor of Moscow to evacuate the great city. The pride of the Mayor is hurt. But he has no other go. Napoleon enters into an empty Moscow deserted by its population. With no provisions for his army Napoleon has to leave Moscow after a week. And he is constantly pursued by Kutuzov till he exits the Russian soil. Napoleon succeeds in escaping , but his army has become extremely weak having lost ninety percent of its officers and soldiers. Napoleon?s actual waterloo was the Russian campaign. The crucial year was 1812 and he could never again recover his former glory. The rest is history and known to all.

In this setting the cream of Russian educated class takes life in various characters of Tolstoy in the novel. Before the war with Napoleon they are all in their youth and full of great ideas of truth and justice. Pierre and Andrei, the two typical characters, who got their education in France, are greatly influenced by the epoch making French Revolution. But they are patriots and fight against Napoleon. After the war, they get married and settle in life. They seem to be sort of domesticated. What happened to their great ideas of freedom and equality? Even Kutuzov has retired to the countryside. But Tolstoy gives an inkling of the activities of his characters for the cause of freedom without outward pomposity.

Besides the great characters of the novel, the real heroes are the people according to Tolstoy. The evacuation of Moscow could not have been accomplished in such a short notice without the active participation of the people. And Napoleon met his defeat in their hands actually. In sheer range and depth of treatment of the great questions of human civilization, of war and peace, of truth and justice, of freedom and equality in a historical setting, ?War and Peace? has no parallel.


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