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War and Peace

War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

Family Theme

In War and Peace, Tolstoy portrays family life with brutal honestly and an amazing eye for the details that make each household seem real. We are shown several abusive, almost perverse relationships between fathers and their children (the Bolkonskys, the Kuragins), and at the same time, we are given an example of family unity and love (the Rostovs). It's significant that the happy new families we are left with at the end of War and Peace (Nikolai and Marya, Natasha and Pierre) each have someone from the well-functioning family we saw earlier. Those who cannot forge healthy family bonds seem to be doomed to death, or to lives lacking in emotional fulfillment.

Questions About Family

  1. Why does Petya die? (Oh, um, spoiler alert.) What is his character supposed to represent in comparison to his siblings? To his parents? Does his death show us anything about them? Why or why not? How would the book be different if he didn't die?
  2. The first sentence of Anna Karenina, the novel Tolstoy wrote after War and Peace, is, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  Does this generalization also apply to the families in War and Peace? Why or why not? Which families are happy? Which are unhappy? How do you know?
  3. Compare the relationships between fathers and daughters in the book. How do the various relationships differ from each other? How do they differ from relationships between mothers and sons?
  4. Why are there so many single-parent families in the novel? Do parents in single-parent families interact with their children differently than those in two-parent families?
  5. Which personality traits can you trace through the generations? Which children are improvements over their parents? Which are worse?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Ultimately, the novel places the greatest value on family intactness. Those who are able to create functional family units are cut a lot of slack for their foibles. Those who can't are doomed.

In War and Peace, childhood deprivation and repression is shown to create mature and healthy adults. Those who had a happy childhood can only turn into functional adults by living through some horrible ordeal.

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