War and Peace
Men and Masculinity Theme
War and Peace provides an extraordinarily wide range of ways to be a man, especially when we take into account the general misogyny of Tolstoy's time. Even more unusual, none of the different kinds of men we see – from sensitive, artistic types, to macho men, to intellectuals – is shown to be any less worthy than the others. Tolstoy's point seems to be that it's not so much what type of masculinity you end up with, but what you do with your temperament and attitude that counts.
Questions About Men and Masculinity
- Imagine switching the women and the men around. Who would be a good female replacement for Dolokhov? For Kutuzov? Which male character could stand in for Natasha? For Sonya?
- What kinds of relationships do men have with each other in the book? Do friends of the same generation tend to be equals, or do they connect through a power imbalance? What does it mean to be a friend in War and Peace?
- Explore the different kinds of education male characters get. Where/how does Pierre learn what he knows? Andrei? Nikolai? Can you see the effects in the grownup characters of their childhood education?
Chew on This
Women are actually completely tangential to this book, which in reality is about the way men want to be close to each other, or even be each other.
Rather than the more familiar ways of defining manhood as success in public life, or through the display of machismo, the novel argues that true masculine achievement is revealed through a man's relationship with children. Those who form lasting and meaningful connections with children are heralded, while those who cannot are regarded as failures as men.