War and Peace Theme of Courage
In War and Peace, the traditional kind of courage – bravery in battle – is often shown to be the result of internal motivations, thoughts, and calculations that have nothing at all to do with wanting to exhibit prowess or find personal glory. On the other hand, we do frequently see smaller, more private expressions of courage, mostly from female characters, and mostly having to do with the choices they make in pursuing or abandoning relationships. Since the book's focus is so often on the way war gives way to peace, it makes sense that these long-term decisions get highlighted.
Questions About Courage
- The most straightforwardly courageous character in the work has to be Dolokhov. But he is also somewhat of a killing machine and kind of a psychopath. Why are these traits combined into the same person? What conclusions are we supposed to draw from this?
- Are there any cowards in the book? What is the most cowardly action taken? Is cowardice shown more through action or inaction? Why?
- How does courage manifest itself outside of war? Does War and Peace disconnect courage from its military and combative associations? How does it do this – or why doesn't it?
- Compare the loosely described mass courage of the Russian peasants, who burn the countryside to deprive the French, with the specific acts of bravery carried out by characters we know. What's different about the descriptions? Which come off as more admirable? Why?
Chew on This
One of the more distinctive kinds of bravery the book advocates is the courage to experience physical privation and suffering, which sometimes seems to be at odds with the fact that the book clearly advocates physical pleasure as a basic human good.
The book is torn between its clear distaste for war as a solution to political problems and its clear admiration of individual feats of bravery performed in battle.