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War and Peace

War and Peace


by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

Tolstoy takes real historical figures like Napoleon, General Kutuzov, and Emperor Alexander and treats them like characters, making up things they say and feel. Are these fictional versions believable? How does our relationship to them change? Do we root for them more? Judge them? Would we react the same way if we didn't get this up-close and personal exposure to historical figures?

The book describes an endless variety of dreams, and practically every major character has at least one, if not several. Usually dreams in novels are pretty straightforward Psych 101 symbolism – characters who are somehow trapped dream about traps, etc. Take a look at Tolstoy's characters' dreams. How much uncomplicated plot-related symbolism do they have? Are some more realistically dreamlike than others? Do they share any qualities? Do different characters dream differently, according to their personalities?

Many readers have complained that reading War and Peace is like reading ten books in one. Imagine that you are making a filmed version of the book – the whole book, not just the Bolkonskys-Rostovs part, like the many movie versions out there do. How would each section get translated for the screen? Which parts would be a movie? Which parts would be in a documentary format? Reality-TV show? Sitcom with a laugh track? Animation? Which would be in black and white and which in color?

We get a really detailed view of two families – the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs – and some pretty good ideas about a two others – the Kuragins and the Drubetskoys. Imagine switching some parents and children in these families around. Would Helene and Anatole have come out any better if they'd been born into the Bolkonsky family? Into the Rostov family? How would Natasha have turned out if Prince Vassily Kuragin was her father? If Princess Drubetskoy was her mother? What if Pierre had grown up in any of these families instead of by himself under a tutor?

Some of the most amazing aspects of the book are the long, detailed, descriptive scenes of domestic life. For example, check out that chapter where a 16-year-old Natasha is bored, antsy, and stir-crazy in her house. It's pages and pages about how she mopes around without finding anything to do. Find other instances of this kind of description. None of these moments do much to advance the plot or even define characters. Why does Tolstoy include them? What would happen if they were left out?

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