Tolstoy And His Message Essay, Research Paper
Tolstoy and his Message
Leo Tolstoy is one of the greatest writers of the last two hundred years. His novels tend to convey an insight on life; whether it be about suffering, death, religion, art, or education. Tolstoy was a man with many strong beliefs, and one must understand these beliefs to fully understand the meaning of his works. He was a deeply religious moral philosopher who used his religious beliefs to shape our understanding on issues of life. He stresses the inequality of social classes and, as apparent in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the suffering in life. Tolstoy was so strong in his beliefs that he actually attempted giving away his material possessions. He believed that that this practice was necessary to live in accordance with his moral and religious views. To fully grasp Tolstoy s message, one must examine his views on religion, art, and life.
Religion is the most important subject to look at with Tolstoy because it shapes his views on the other topics. He followed a list of religious principles that he found important during his life. These principles included avoiding anger and lust, neither taking oaths or resisting evil, and loving everyone including your enemies. Tolstoy found that these characteristics were displayed best in peasant life and not in the aristocracy. For this reason, he lived many years of his life dressing as a peasant and helping those who were less fortunate. He set up a school at his estate, Yasnaya Polyana, and chose not to indulge in the luxuries of life. His belief in his principles were so strong that he eventually spoke out against the Russian Orthodox which led to his excommunication in 1901. In his essay, What is Religion? , Tolstoy writes, True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions (Reader p. 320). Still, Tolstoy believed that it was more important to conform in these ways than to conform to the ways of society.
Religion played a major role in shaping Tolstoy s view on art. He believed that art was meant to connect or unify humanity with God by reproducing the same feelings between artist and viewer. From Prof. Banach s lecture, he invites us to realize Tolstoy s view on art. The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that well-being for men consists in their being united together, and to set up, in place of the existing realm of force, that kingdom of God that is of love (What is Art?, XX). During his time, Tolstoy felt that art was losing its emphasis on religion and was beginning to become a means of pleasing people. Again, according to Prof. Banach s lecture, art had lost its religious subject matter and attempted only to produce pleasure.
It had become exclusive ; created for certain groups of people, as opposed to universal ; created for all people. It had also become insincere, being created only to make money without conveying any new messages or without any true feelings. Tolstoy believed that art should be universal in linking everyone to a common view.
Much of Tolstoy s literature had to do with human life and subsequent death. The Death of Ivan Ilyich portrays this view to great extent. He portrays his view of the meaning of life as well as the pursuit of an explanation for human suffering. Tolstoy first shows us how the death of Ivan, a court official, opens up a job position and his colleagues are only interested in the business implications of his death. Their failure to sympathize with the death of a friend and colleague represents Tolstoy s view of society at that time. Tolstoy s meaning of life can be found at the conclusion of the novel when Ivan is examining his life. Ilyich realizes that his work, his earnings, his extravagant home, his convenient marriage, and his social standing all have no meaning now that he is faced with death. The turning point for Ivan comes when he realizes that his life was a lie and the true purpose of living is to help others as displayed by Gerasim the peasant. It is here, that suffering comes into play. Ilyich is suffering because he is searching for an elaborate meaning to everything and forgetting the simple things that make life great. When he finally realizes this, his months of suffering cease, and he lays in peace for a few hours before he comfortably dies. Tolstoy conveys this message through the death itself, along with Ivan s external relationships.
Despite dying and being ridiculed by his family and society over his illness, Ilyich is presented in a heroic sense at the end of the story. Tolstoy does this by showing us how his family and friends are caught up in the materialism and social standing in life but Ilyich himself had abandoned these ideas. In a sense, Tolstoy shows us that it is the others who have dies because they do not live their lives as true Christians would. Instead, it is Ilyich who, despite having nothing, becomes the more righteous character through the help of Gerasim. This view parallels Tolstoy s belief that it is the poor peasants who exhibit the principles and the upper classes who abandon their religion for personal pleasure. Now Tolstoy s message becomes clear. The meaning of life is to help others and live a morally Christian life because religion is present in all things from art to education. Those who live life like this will not suffer because they will be free from sin and at peace with God.