Sample Essay 1. The Old Oak Tree Symbol
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 initially, he seems to think that love is a waste of time. At the beginning of the book, Andrei is married to Lise and is 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 the 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”). 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 injured from battle. Despite this, the tree is resilient and continues to stand. The oak embodies a degree of hopelessness, and yet at the same time, is pleasant. At this point, Andrei realizes he must continue his journey and his life, not harming anyone or desiring for anything. Like the tree, Andrei has given up on life but still continues to stand. Even as spring is budding and joyous around him, the tree represents the act of 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 year. 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 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, much like human life: life and death, hope and despair, and the connection that nature has to live. 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.
Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude, Oxford University Press, 2008.
“War and Peace.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed, Encyclopedia.com, 2019, www.encyclopedia.com/literature-and-arts/literature-other-modern-languages/russian-and-eastern-european-literature/war-and-peace.
Sample Essay 2. Rebuilding of Bald Hills
War and Peace is one of the most widely held creations of world literature. The novel is well known to a lot of people from all over the world. Although War and Peace is called a novel, this term is not entirely suitable for this work. It interweaves a variety of genres, from novel to Gospel text. Tolstoy also puts forward his own view of religion in War and Peace, passing it through the filter of his philosophy and synthesizing it from various beliefs. Yet, he leaves little mark of himself in this work. Tolstoy conveys his ideas through a favored method of all Russian writers, which is symbolism.
Leo Tolstoy constantly emphasizes the role of divine thought, both in human destiny and in history. Bolkonsky survived after a serious injury in a bloody battle thanks to the golden image that Princess Mary had put on his chest. After the injury, Andrew reinterprets his idea of life; he imagines the quiet happiness of family life in the Bald Hills. The name “Bald Hills” is very unusual and expressive. According to the opinions of some researchers, Bald Hills is associated with Mount Calvary on which Christ was crucified (Moser 298). Bald Hills is endowed with the meaning of sacred space. This name indicates the “Christlike” feature of Prince Andrew Bolkonsky as a martyr (298). Prince Andrew, who does not escape the grenade on the Borodino field and sacrifices himself, is like Christ willingly receiving death on the cross. The sacred aureole of the Bald Hills is also shown in the depiction of the manor as a shelter for the “people of God.” Princess Mary constantly takes in pilgrims and unusual people (298).
Despite the deep thoughts and valuable arguments concerning the following symbols, there is research that undermines this interpretation. First of all, there is nothing exceptional about the wound of Colonel Bolkonsky: the regiment of Prince Andrew is on reserve at the Semenovsky ravine, on the line of the Russian position, which was in fact subjected to the most powerful artillery fire (Feuer et al. 138). The real event of the Battle of Borodino is reflected in the description of the shelling to which the regiment of Prince Andrew is subjected. This is the shelling of Preobrazhensky and Semenov guard regiments that were in reserve, in the second line of the Russian defense (Feuer et al. 138). “At the Borodino field, Semenovsky and Preobrazhensky regiments were put in reserve behind Rayevsky battery. At first, they stood under the gunfire of the enemy artillery, then under the Infantry for fourteen hours, and they withstood that ordeal steadfastly, with an unflappable equanimity which should have had just the best troops” (Feuer et al. 142). Secondly, the reluctance of Prince Andrew to hide from the grenade is a consequence of pride; the officer’s honor motivates it. The feelings nurtured in Bolkonsky’s soul before the battle are far from pure forgiveness, from Christian equanimity, from detachment from the world and its temptations, from the state of mind that must be inherent in martyrs. He does not believe in eternal life, and on the eve of the battle, he notices that Princess Mary said that this is a trial sent from above. Yet, he does not understand what this test is when it no longer exists and will never exist; there will be no one else (Tolstoy 212). The knowledge of the vanity of one’s own life and life in general, revealed to Prince Andrew on the eve of the Battle of Borodino, is a graceless knowledge. From now on, the life for Bolkonsky is poorly painted images (211). He is not just disappointed with the public life, glory, and the love of a woman, but he refuses life itself and its eternal source. After the wound, near death, he will comprehend the higher meaning of being, but this will be another Prince Andrew.
The Bald Hills in War and Peace is not a place in which holiness is concentrated. Life in the Bald Hills is far from righteousness; it is full of irritation and hidden unkindness. It appears to be what the attitude of the old prince to the household is. Living in the Bald Hills is not only a temptation but also a sin (the readers must remember the relations of the old prince with Mademoiselle Bourienne) (Feuer et al. 163). Certainly, behind the cruel ridicule and annoyance of Prince Nicholas is the love manifested to his daughter before his death. Yet, one way or another, Bald Hills is by no means a sacred place. Tolstoy may also associate Bald Hills with a clear sky. The name of the Bald Hills, like the name of the Rostovs’ estate, is not a coincidence, and its meaning is rather ambiguous. The phrase “Bald Hills” is associated with infertility (bald) and with an elevation in pride (high place, mountains) (163). The rationality of pride and consciousness can distinguish both the old prince and Prince Andrew. Furthermore, the Bald Hills is a kind of transformation of the name of Tolstoy family’s estate Yasnaya Polyana, or “Bright Glade”: Bald (open, unshadowed) relates with Bright (clear), and Hills with Glade (contrasting high place and lowland). It is known that the description of life in the Bald Hills is inspired by the impressions of the Bright Glade family life (Massie 75).
Feuer, Kathryn Beliveau., et al. Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace. Cornell University Press, 2008.
Massie, Suzanne. Land of the Firebird, the Beauty of Old Russia. Simon and Schuster, 1980.
Moser, Charles. Encyclopedia of Russian Literature. Cambridge University Press, pp. 298–300. Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Translated by Richard Pevear, Vintage Classics, 2008.
The symbol of the oak tree is inseparably connected with Andrei Bolkonsky, one of the protagonists in Tolstoy’s novel. This tree mirrors the fundamental changes in his life, and the transformations in his state and inner condition. Another symbol mentioned by the author is the Bolkonsky family estate Bald Hills. A writer described this place not as a sacred one, but full of family traditions and love, hidden behind irritation and severity.
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