Monday, February 3, 2014

Positivity: Delusion or Necessity?

Chapter 2 shows the first signs of a common thread throughout Book 2: positivity in times of peril. I was especially confused in this chapter at the many "congratulations" thrown around even though the Austrians had just suffered a loss. Somehow, all of the men in the scene, except Prince Andrew, manage to spin Mack's defeat into a victory. I shared Prince Andrew's sentiments about the importance of acknowledging the high stakes of the war. But this type of unwarranted positivity continued throughout Book 2. The end of Chapter 4 has perhaps more exclamation points, all of pure joy, than any other page in Book 2. This excitement ensues from news that Mack has surrendered with his entire army. The recipients of the news are quick to understand that they cannot respond with nerves, but with excitement. The last line of Chapter 4, "Well thank God! We've been sitting here too long!" (117) shows a step above courage--excitement. Andrew seems to view this attitude as delusional and foolish.

Do you agree with this attitude? After reading Chapter 2, I fully endorsed Andrew's skepticism. But as the book progressed, I came to see a common theme of creating positivity out of the small victories, even to the point of finding elements of victory in a larger defeat. After considering this point, I realized that this is really what war is about; both sides will suffer massive losses, but the small victories will add up for the ultimate victor.


  1. Logan, I see your point about them being way too happy all the time, but I don't necessarily agree that the small victories will add up for the ultimate victor is what Tolstoy's point is here ( although it is quite true since we all know Napoleon didn't achieve his goals in the end).
    I believe I have mentioned this in class too, but the reasons for the general happiness from my perspective are these: 1. The soldiers have no idea what true massacres look like, so they are glad to be protecting Mother Russia 2. Almost everyone is inexperienced with war, so the discrepancy between what actually happens and what they think happened is meant to add to the chaos of the war.

    Any other thoughts?

  2. I think seeing the positivity as a way for the characters to deal with loss and defeat is a really interesting idea especially when you consider chapter 14, but it seems more like the soldiers positivity is more from the excitement of being in the army and not knowing the full truth of Russias situation.

  3. I agree with Alex and Iulia concerning the soldiers' general ignorance of Russia's military position in relation to Napolean, which explains their overall merry countenances. Additionally, their uncertainty of what is to come causes anxiety, and I would say that in order to cope with their nerves, they choose to act with bravado rather than expose their fears--we see the failure of this in Nicholas Rostov especially.
    I would also like to comment, though, on the greater question that Logan has posed concerning the discrepancies between perceptions and reality. Outside of the war, we see Pierre in particular dealing with his new title and financial position as the Count and how he perceives his sudden embrace into a society that had previously made him feel unwelcome. While Vasili and the others are clearly trying to placate Pierre for their own financial gain, Pierre chooses to believe that they sincerely respect him for personal qualities he always knew he possessed. I think to a large degree, Tolstoy speaks to the way people deceive themselves and create their own "realities, "and the way in which these delusions are necessary because sometimes, the truth is just too painful.

  4. So this post is really late but still relevant. So reading your posts, I have to agree with what has been said. However, the question that comes to my mind is "What separates Prince Andrew?" Why is it that he understands the war? I think Tolstoy did a good job at developing him as a serious character who is very thoughtful but it seems like he's working really hard to build him up so that he is the hero. Beyond his thoughtfulness, why is Andrew able to understand what others do not?

  5. My post is also really late and will tie in some of the recent developments on the war front: the theme of positivity continues throughout Book 3 and is perhaps most demonstrably shown in the Emperor's arrival. I wonder if there's a conflation of national patriotism and love of the Emperor that excludes possibility of negativity regarding the war. This war seems to portend the disillusionment so characteristic of the later World War I, as noblemen no longer regarded war as necessary but as pointlessly destructive. The cheerful attitude toward the war also seems to transition throughout War and Peace, and I'll be curious to see the number of exclamation points used in later chapters.