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Themes

In War and Peace there are no two ways about it: war is a brutal, savage, animalistic thing that goes against human reason. Tolstoy is horrified by the idea that the disagreements of a few people in government are solved by the movement of thousands of men across hundreds of miles, mostly to kill and be killed in turn by other men. Every battle is described as chaotic, having nothing to do with strategy or planning, grisly, and usually not even useful in determining a winner.

Questions About Warfare

  1. Compare several battle scenes. Do the descriptions change from one fight to the next? Do they get more or less gory as the book goes on? More or less zoomed in or zoomed out? Why?
  2. Who is the best soldier in the novel? Who is the worst? How do you know?
  3. Tolstoy spent five years researching the 1812 conflict in general, and the Battle of Borodino in particular. How does the extra material affect the reading experience?  What happens to the reader as he/she goes from an overview of the whole battle, complete with maps and scholarly phrasing, to a close up description of what a particular character experiences? In other words, how does the mash-up of fact and fiction work here?

Chew on This

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

Although this is probably not Tolstoy's intention, his "history textbook" insertions disrupt the narrative and place the reader at too much of an emotional distance from the characters.

Francois Truffaut said that it's impossible to make an anti-war movie, because any time you show fighting on the screen you can't help but glorify it. This holds true for War and Peace, because even though it is a deeply pacifist book, by far and away the most exciting passages are the ones depicting battle.

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