Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” has a great deal of symbolism weaved into its intricate pages. Such symbolism comes in the form of the old oak tree, a significant symbol that is meant to be a form of hope, despair, life, and death. Like the seasons of Andrei’s lives, the oak tree experiences transformation and causes Andrei to change a great deal as well.
Andrei is a serious young man, the eldest son of a stern and sometimes callous father. He feels he must prove himself in glory through battle, and he initially he seems to think that love is a waste of time. In the beginning of the book, Andrei is in married to Lise and expecting a child. It seems that this is not enough for him, and indeed he advises Pierre to avoid marriage and even avoid any type of sexual relationship. Love does not seem to enchant Andrei, as he is set on finding an esteemed glory of being a hero. Such glory, however, is a romanticized notion that does not exist in real life. Andrei leaves to serve in the first war against Napoleon, leaving behind Lise with his family. He is wounded in battle, and returns to find his wife in labor, who dies from childbirth.
In book six of War and Peace, Andrei comes upon the “aged, stern, and scornful” oak tree (“War and Peace”) Andrei is scarred himself both physically and emotionally. He is distraught from his war injuries and from losing his young wife. The oak tree, like Andrei, has been wounded. It has had its bark scarred, in the same way that Andrei has been wounded from battle. Despite this, the tree is resilient and continues to stand. The oak represents a degree of hopelessness, and yet at the same time, is pleasant. It is at this point that Andrei realizes he must continue his journey and his life, not harming anyone or desiring for anything. Like the tree appears to, Andrei has given up on life and still continues to stand. Even as spring is budding and joyous around him, the tree represents being scarred and still continuing to live in a new season.
Eventually, Andrei meets and falls in love with Natasha. They quickly become engaged, but his father does not think it is a good match, and says they should postpone the marriage for at least a years’ time. When he falls in love, he sees the oak tree in a new light. The tree changes and continues to grow: “Through the hard-century old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced.” (Tolstoy, p. 371). Like Andrei, the tree, though it has suffered, gains new life and meaning. It continues to grow, despite everything that has happened to it. The true beauty of the oak is the seasons that it goes through; life and death, hope and hopelessness, and the connection that nature has to life. The characters in War and Peace are born, go through trials, have joy, and die. Though Andrei’s ending may not be seen as a happy one, it is authentic and real, much like the old oak tree.
Louise and Aylmer Maude. Ed. George Gibian. New York: Norton.
“War and Peace.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008.Encyclopedia.com. 6 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.”
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