Leo Tolstoy


Author Biography
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Theme Analysis
Imagery Analysis
Style Analysis
Literary Devices Author is Known For
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Influence on World Literature
Literary Movement
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Sample of Author's Works
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by Caitlin Ochmanski

         The great Russian Author Leo Tolstoy is known for such works as “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, as well as many short stories. Many major themes reoccur throughout his stories. Some of his most prevalent themes are 19th century Russian society, war, youth, love, marriage, and death.

        One of Tolstoy’s greatest works, “War and Peace” was published between 1865 and 1869. It deals with the intertwining lives of characters, both historical and fictional, during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812. The book itself is actually divided into four parts and two epilogues. The first book deals primarily with the themes of youth and love as it looks at the lives of five aristocratic families and their children who are of the age where they are ready to be married or be sent off to face the impending war. The second book delves more into the actual war and the society of Russia as preparations for the war are made and at the time as one of the characters, Pierre Bezukhov, receives an inheritance and must learn to act like a noble.

            As the novel comes to a close the effects of the war can be seen. Many characters pass away and the remaining must learn to deal with death. Young lovers get married and learn to deal with the responsibilities that come with it. The first epilogue deals with one character planning something that would presumably change Russian society, possibly a revolution, and the second epilogue presents Tolstoy’s view on history and free will.

            Tolstoy’s other great novel “Anna Karenina” was first published in installments from 1873 to 1877. It deals with the themes of love, tragedy, and what is considered acceptable by society. The main character, Anna leaves her husband for a handsome military officer. When the affair ends however Anna is prohibited from seeing her son until she goes back to her husband. She is unwilling to do this however, and kills herself instead.

            There is a parallel story that occurs alongside that of Anna’s. It is the story of the wealthy landowner Levin as he tries to win over Kitty, a young girl in high society. Levin is only able to win her over after he stops behaving how he thinks society would want him to, and starts being himself. The relationship of Levin and Kitty is contrasted throughout the story with the relationships that Anna has, and this serves to criticizes the behavior of aristocrats and portray the parable of being true to yourself when society accepts falseness.

            Many other themes reoccur throughout Tolstoy’s many short stories. Such themes are religion, religious hypocrisy, Christian ideals, and spiritual transformation which Tolstoy deals with in the works “Resurrection”, “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”, “The Kreutzer Sonata”, “The Death of Ivan llyich”, and “Master and Man”.

            Through his many works Tolstoy was able to provide an in depth insight to many popular topics of his time. He has influenced many other authors through his works and is considered by many as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Here is a complete list of all the themes of Leo Tolstoy’s works. (Taken from the school library’s literature resource center)

v     Adultery

v     Aristocracy

v     Art

v     Christian Theology

v     Death

v     Desire for Knowledge

v     Ethics

v     Familial Love

v     Good and Evil

v     Historical Philosophy

v     Meaning of Life

v     Militarism

v     Military Life

v     Morality

v     Nobility

v     Nonviolence

v     Peace

v     Platonic Love

v     Religious Criticism

v     Romantic Love

v     Social Satire

v     Suffering

v     Spiritual Transformation