Monday, May 5, 2014

Peasants and Piety

A common theme throughout the material we have read has been the affinity between nature and God, and specifically how peasants and members of the lower class are closer to God because they labor outside and are more connected with the earth and the objective world. On the other hand, the aristocracy tend to be divorced from nature and thus have a problematic or nonexistent faith in a higher power.

However, after reading "Master and Man" and beginning "Hadji Murad," I am wondering if Tolstoy moved away from this perspective of the peasants as images of piety and goodness in his old age. The strife in Peter Avdeev's family and Nikita's alcoholism provide more realistic portraits of peasant life rather than the gross idealizations of lower-class existence as embraced by Levin. The ending of "Master and Man" suggests that Nikita might have been better off had he perished in the snowstorm with Vasili. Moreover, the emphasis of the story is on Vasili's dying epiphany, which is catalyzed by his physical closeness to Nikita in his dying moments. In this sense, the peasant serves as a tool for his master's enlightenment, but this enlightenment eludes Nikita himself completely.

The frivolity of Peter Avdeev's death further reinforces the idea that the peasants are being exploited for the ease of the upper class; in the grand scheme, his death means nothing and the death itself is not very inspiring or memorable. His family attaches meaning to his death in that they have lost a valuable worker, rather than a spiritual loss. Additionally, the misconduct of Peter's brother and his wife show us laziness, ingratitude, and betrayal amongst the peasants in a way we have not seen before in Tolstoy's works. Do you think that Tolstoy became skeptical about faith/God in general towards the end of his life, or is he just moving towards a more realistic/less idealized perspective on the peasantry?


  1. I think that Tolstoy's viewpoint was swayed by both. He definitely wasn't a big fan of religion later in life. It's also possible that his attitude towards peasants changed as he watched the beginnings of social revolution unfold around him. He always stayed closed with peasants throughout his life, so working with them as these major social changes took place could have allowed him more exposure to the truth of the peasant's conditions. It mentioned in that biography we saw in class that he seriously tried to throw aside his landowner past and live a simpler life. Perhaps actually living "the simple life" added to his understanding of how peasant life really was.Then again, I'm not sure just how far he went in his emulation of peasant life.

    1. I definitely agree with all of your points, Alex. I wonder whether Tolstoy felt closer to finding meaning and purpose in his life when he lived 'simply' or if the experience just made him skeptical about his previous views of peasants as pure and enlightened.