My international Hero
A hero is a person who is recognized by others as one with outstanding qualities, who makes something unique and is accepted as a model of emulation (dictionary.com). However, the meaning of the word, ''hero'' is different for everybody. For example, for children, the hero is a person they see on the television, who fights with ''bad boys'' and saves the world. For others, the hero can be the person from whom they can learn good things. For me, the hero is a person, who even after his/her death is still remembered by many people, and who despite his/her inner self-doubt perseveres and turns negative qualities into positive ones. Leo Tolstoy is such a person. He is a hero to me because of his inner strength that helped to turn him away from his self-destructive behaviors so that he could become a famous religious and pro-pacifist novelist. In addition, I admire his love of doing his creative work, into which he put all his feelings and emotions. Specifically, a few of Tolstoy’s key qualities, such as, his ability to use his inner strength, his keen ambition, and his
love for work, all contribute to making him my hero.
Accordingly, Leo Tolstoy was a great Russian writer and philosopher, who became world-renowned after writing such works as War and Peace and Anna Karenina . Leo Tolstoy was born on August 28, 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia to rich and noble family that had some impressive ancestors. Tolstoy was the fourth of five children in his family. (Wilson 5). He lost his parents at early age, and it impacted him greatly so that he struggled all his life with coming to terms with their loss. Martin Green, a professor at Tufts University, writes about Tolstoy, ''...childhood brought him a fair share of unhappiness and of treachery and falsity in others'' (18). However, Tolstoy faced the difficulties in his life with great persistence and his work helped him to prioritize the challenges of his own complex life. He wrote his novels with immeasurable enjoyment and, as he later wrote in his diary, ''I am not writing to please people, but because I like to; work gives me a pleasure and a sense of purpose''(Troyat 92). Moreover, because of the ambitious nature of Tolstoy's character, he tended to underestimate his own success and challenged himself with difficult goals. He was never quite satisfied with the results, which was kept Tolstoy pushing forward.
Nonetheless, Tolstoy's twenties were defined as a time of endless gambling and drinking. As often happens to many young men at that age, Tolstoy felt self doubts about his life purpose. After he lost the house that he inherited through gambling, he decided to quit both gambling and drinking alcohol (Wilson 28). It is difficult to believe that the same person, who once gambled and abused alcohol could one day influence the views of the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi and the American activist, Martin Luther King, Jr. Tolstoy’s struggle with his demons made him stronger and developed his powerful inner strength. Tolstoy began writing a diary where he outlined the major moral principles, which he would follow in his daily life. He kept track of the ''failures'' and ''successes'' of the day in his journal. That is how he perfected his inner strength. Henri Troyat, a French biographer, writes about it when he says, ''. . . he set to work with a will, strict timetable, iron discipline, gymnastics and creation'' (67). In his later years, Tolstoy, a lover of all Russian cuisine, especially those cooked with meat, became a vegetarian. What a complete change in diet that must have been. According to his new philosophy, eating meat was the equivalent of killing an innocent animal. He felt that the world should live in peace, and people should forgive their enemies and love all living creatures. These views were displayed in his famous work, written in 1894, The Kingdom of God is Within You, which had a huge effect on a young man named
Mahatma Gandhi. In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi asserts that Tolstoy's book had one of the greatest influences on him as a political leader (Green 31). Later, Leo Tolstoy wrote in his book, A Confession , ''I perceived that to understand the meaning of life is necessary, first the life should not be meaningless and evil, then we can apply reason to explain it'' (59). I admire his perseverance, because he transformed himself from an alcoholic lacking willpower into a person who later inspired and distinguished himself as role model for thousands of people. He found meaning in his work, which became the purpose of his life.
Subsequently, in 1843, Tolstoy was admitted to Kazan University in Russia where he began to study law. However, he was soon bored with studies and did not complete his degree. Instead, he joined the army in Sevastopol, Russia, which became a major turning point in his life. He observed the lives of many poor peasants in Sevastopol and described his feelings about these people around him in his work, ''Sevastopol Stories''. His writing career began in 1851 with this book (Gale). As professor Greens writes about him, ''Tolstoy had been so eager to produce, to create works of art, to turn his experiences into acts of imagination'' (272). From “Sevastopol Stories” his eagerness was unstoppable. After a period of writer’s block, he finally found the work for which he was ready
to dedicate his entire life. The span of years from 1865 to 1869 became the most prolific period in his career. During these years he wrote his masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. War and Peace depicts Russian aristocracy during the Napoleonic Invasion in early 1800s, while Anna Karenina is a story about a young woman from an upper class Russian society ( ). He loved the characters of his works, as he stated: ''. . . I desired nothing but to live with the characters of War and Peace; I loved them and watched the life of each of them developed as though they were living beings'' (Green 112). Professor Andrew Kaufman of Russian Literature and Slavic Languages, at the University of Virginia states, ''Tolstoy's novels are so long, because he wanted to show the length of the human journey through them''. He shows how his characters are searching for hope, struggling the challenges of their lives and loving each other throughout the books. Tolstoy never wrote novels without a message. Instead, he displayed in them his emotions as well as the lives of the people around him. For example, in his later work, The Death of Ivan Ilyich , the life of the protagonist of the novel is described as ordinary and ''grey''. Although the main character of the novel, Ivan Ilyich, dies after falling off a ladder, Tolstoy presented the reader with another reason for the protagonist’s death, which became a “spiritual crisis” in his life. While writing this novel Tolstoy himself felt purposeless
because he was trying to find new inspiration. Thus, through the character of Ivan Ilyich, he wanted to show his own life and his own lack of inspiration, his monotony and the “grey” color of his life. All of Tolstoy's feelings ‘’killed’’ the protagonist of the novel, Ivan Ilyich. Writing was Tolstoy’s companion. Once Tolstoy mentioned in his diary, “. . . for a long time I lied to myself, imagining I had friends, people who understand me. How wrong I was! I can find no company in which I am at ease” (Troyat 102). His journal was his friend and his companion. He wrote there not only his works, but also his personal feelings, which even his wife did not know about. In her diary, she writes that sometimes she was jealous of his writing (Green 193).
Likewise, his ambitious and even too idealistic nature helped Tolstoy succeed in life. Professor Kaufman asserts, ‘’if there ever were a writer who understands the lies that we tell ourselves, and the brutality the human beings exhibit, it is Tolstoy. Yet, if there were ever a writer who knowing this full well still believes in human possibility, it is also Tolstoy”. Although Tolstoy understood that people are not perfect, he still believed that people could achieve their goals if they wanted to. Even for his own time, Tolstoy was too idealistic. In fact, Tolstoy himself admitted that he was overly ambitious. He once wrote, “. . . the purpose of man is to strive towards moral perfection, and
that such perfection would be easy, possible and last forever”(Green 37). Perfection, stimulated by an intense desire to improve himself, contributed to his dissatisfaction with his successes. So, he tried to set more difficult goals to achieve. For example, while studying in Kazan University, he felt that it was not enough for him to study law. He wanted something that would endure in the future, which became the writing. However, even his beloved work was not enough for him. He needed more. After writing greatest novels of the century and becoming a wealthy and respected author, he was still searching for something more. He achieved the pinnacle of success in almost every aspect of his life. He had a big family, flourishing career, and writers’ recognition. However, he was still feeling that something was missing in his life and his ambitions were not fully satisfied. In his middle age, Tolstoy decided to spend the remaining part of his life pursuing his “spiritual happiness”, which he found later and shared this knowledge with others.
Therefore, despite the obstacles in his way, Leo Tolstoy used his inner strength, dedication to his ideals, work ethics and keen intelligence to overcome all of them. Creating War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which thrilled all over the world, became an impetus for his life that urged him to strive for higher goals. Last but not least, Tolstoy’s ambitions distinguished him from the people
of his time, for whom ambition seemed as a negative trait of the human experience. It is partially true that an over ambitious nature might be interpreted as a negative trait unless it urges people to spend their lives on this earth with great purpose and conviction. Even now, 100 years after his death, that man with his great inner strength, love for work, and huge ambitions throughout life stands as a model and a “hero” for thousands of people around the world, including me. To this day, he is regarded as the world’s great novelist whose power of art will remain for another hundreds of years to come.
Gale Online Learning Center. Leo Tolstoy. 3 Jun. 2004. Web. 5 May 2010.
Green, Martin. Tolstoy and Gandhi, Men of Peace. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1983. Print.
Hayes, Steven J. Basic Famous People. Steven J. Hayes, 2006. Web. 11 May. 2010. <http://www.basicfamouspeople.com>.
Kaufman, Andrew. “Understanding Tolstoy’s Humanity.” Project: Lecture. Youtube, 22 Sep. 2009. Web. 2 May. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPEVVYtUAO8&feature =related>.
---. “Inspiring Characters in Tolstoy's War and Peace.” Project: Lecture. Youtube, 1 Oct. 2009. Web. 2 May. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mO_bcw3IRM&feature=r elated>.
---. “Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich Died So That We Can Live.” Project: Lecture. Youtube, 1 Oct. 2009. Web. 2 May. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al4bfFDnAkA&feature=related>.
---. “Was Tolstoy Too Optimistic About Human Nature?” Project: Lecture. Youtube, 1 Oct. 2009. Web. 2 May. 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_53znoUCQ8&feature=r elated>.
Tolstoy, Leo. A Confession. 1940.Trans. Aymer Maude. London: Oxford UP, 1967. Print.
Troyat, Henri. Tolstoy. Trans. Nancy Amphoux. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1967. Print.
Wilson, A.N. Tolstoy. New York: Norton and Company, Inc., 1988. Print.