The Depiction Of Male/Female Relationships In Tolstoy's War And Peace

1964 words - 8 pages

The period is the early 19th century; those involved and discussed in this essay are for the most part Russian gentry. Increasingly relaxed social mores in the “developed” world, including the greater freedom to choose to whom one gets married to as well as increased women’s sexual rights, were much more uncommon during the time that War and Peace takes place. Tolstoy, an outspoken critic of arranged marriages, uses the characters in his novel as a way of exploring the various types of love, and in general the interactions between men and women of the time. This essay will attempt to focus on these relationships in an effort to get a better idea of Tolstoy’s views on the proper roles that ...view middle of the document...

His attitude toward her changes from mild admiration to meek, uncertain happiness at his engagement. Throughout these early periods of his courting and marriage to Helene, Pierre is weak-willed, bumbling, and awkward in all situations relating to his wife. It is only when rumors spread that she has been unfaithful that we see Pierre’s jealous side evoked, and he even goes so far as to nearly kill Helene, something completely unlike him up to this point. This jealous episode serves to humanize Pierre; in his jealousy (and in a broader sense, in his marriage) he is not the spiritually strong and indefatigable man he once was, an obvious result of his loveless, sham marriage.
In direct contrast to Pierre’s marriage to Helene is his relationship with Natasha. Starting from her childhood, Pierre is a familiar face around the Rostov estate, and it isn’t until Natasha is inconsolable with her ended engagement with Prince Andrei that Pierre first acts on his feelings for her. It is interesting to note that it is evidently acceptable to effectively tell Natasha of his feelings for her while she has just broken her engagement with Prince Andrei. This advantage is presumably acceptable to both society and Natasha since there is seemingly little possibility of marriage between them. In marriage to Natasha, Pierre is content and sure of himself, able to devote himself to his studies and his family. He treats his wife as an equal, and bends to her every wish because he loves her. This is an example of the purest form of love in the novel, something that is only possible not simply because of their extensive previous relationship, but also because of their spiritual/emotional suffering. Natasha’s impulsive, lively character gives way to wisdom, making her Pierre’s perfect spiritual partner.
The Bolkonsky family has one of the more interesting dynamics in the novel. Prince Nikolai is seen as a mean-spirited, petty old man, and his interactions with women consist of his daughter Marya and her companion Madam Bourienne. To his daughter, Prince Nikolai is excessively cold and brutal, something which strangely draws her to her father still tighter. Knowing how to manipulate her, Prince Nikolai uses cruelty as a way of keeping Marya by his side, even convincing her not to marry Anatole. This relationship slightly exaggerates but effectively illuminates the fairly common bond between father and daughter among gentry: the father is in all things right, the daughter is to submit to his will, and in all things the father is irreproachable. An example of this irreproachability is the prince’s later relations with Madam Bourienne. The old prince is eager to flaunt the relationship to his daughter, and treats Bourienne better than he does Marya. As Prince Nikolai is about to die, he repents and finally tells his daughter that he loves her, a minor change in an incorrigible old man, as well as something of a warning to fathers of the noble class.
Prince Andrei...

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