Friday, March 27, 2009

War and Peace

The first time I read War and Peace, it was a project. About four years ago, I decided to read it to find out what it was all about and why people call it a classic. When I finished it, I cried when I was trying to tell my husband about it. I was just so overwhelmed by the masterpiece that Tolstoy has given us. The first time through, the most striking thing for me was the thread in which Pierre seeks for peace in himself through various ways. At one point he describes all of his ideas about changing things and building a good life to his friend Andrei. In turn, Andrei puts Pierre's plans into action and incorporates them into his life, even though he isn't sure these actions will lead to happiness. Pierre, while he does try, seems unable to find the peace he is looking for. He does not seem to have the follow through to make the changes really happen, even though he believes in the changes. Eventually, Pierre does find a peaceful existence, but for someone who is searching so hard it takes a long time. This search for peace is mirrored in the lives of the peasants and their lifestyle, and also in upper class life throughout the book. This is the part that I feel makes this book a classic because the book is filled with layers that interweave. There are some parts that are a bit dry at first, but they expand your understanding in a really lovely way later on. 

The second time through this book, I picked up on and followed a completely different but interrelated theme. Ironically, still centered around Pierre though. This second theme is all about marriage, and how the person you marry really influences your lifestyle and happiness in an all encompassing way. We get to see how this works in Pierre's marriage, and how he is influenced by his decision. His whole life, and much of his searching for peace, are affected by an uncomfortable marriage relationship. We can also see this struggle mirrored in the lives of other people in the book. I think this theme was just a side note to Tolstoy, but a very important message for people in general. We do actually get to see some examples of working, pleasant marriages in the book as well. The contrast is rather striking. Also, the amount of time devoted to the unhappiness marriage can create is huge compared to the amount devoted to the happy marriages. I think this is reflective of how it is in real life. If you are in an unhappy marriage, it can become the whole theme of your life, negatively influencing every other event. But a happy, peaceful marriage becomes the backdrop for everything else. It does influence other events positively, but in a less obtrusive way. 

Even though my attention was drawn to a different theme the second time through, I was still aware of the original theme I recognized in War and Peace. I still think of this book as a bit of a project, but one worth the time invested.