Here Tolstoy is showing us how arbitrary men can be. A day before Russia and the French are at war, the next they are friends and pinning medals on each other. Yet what about the men who died the day before, are dying now, or are arbitrarily refused pardon? But it’s complicated, too because we’ve been shown everything leading up to this. It’s not all arbitrary, but it feels that way to those who don’t know.
Alexander says “… the law is stronger than I”. And this is a loaded sentence because it’s directed at Tolstoy’s contemporaries and the tsar of his time and reminds us of the Decembrists and even echos loudly in 1918 to the communists who revolted against the tyranny of the tsar. This is an “ideal” statement similar to the myth of Washington who is claimed to have said “I cannot tell a lie”, ironically.
The people we were friends with in youth rarely, if ever, remain friends with us when we become adults. Once we’re about 20 we have a better idea who we are and what we value and wish to pursue and we surround ourselves with people who share our passions. Boris and Nikolai no longer share anything in common.
Tolstoy uses the phrase “blue spectacles of conventionality” to describe Boris. I like that.
I’ve always been grateful to Tolstoy for at least giving us some news about Tushin, He’s not a major character, but he’s my favorite minor character. Sad, too about him losing an arm, yet he’s not despondent about it, and I like that he sits with Denisov even though Vasska has bored them all with this story.
Denisov bit off more than he could chew, tried to dig in, but he’s not strong enough to endure it.
Anyone who has had to deal with the VA will understand this chapter quite well. We make a lot about heroes and about how we honor those who serve, but this is the reality for many who serve in war: neglect, poor treatment, bureaucracy, and death alone.
Tolstoy inclused this chapter to make his case against “great men of history”. He shows us the reality.
This scene foreshadows what will happen to Andrei.