War and Peace

War and Peace

by

Leo Tolstoy

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Themes and Colors
Society and Wealth Theme Icon
European Culture vs. The Russian Soul Theme Icon
Love, Marriage, and Family Theme Icon
War and Peace Theme Icon
Happiness and the Meaning of Life  Theme Icon
Theory of History Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in War and Peace, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Society and Wealth

Among the novel’s aristocratic characters, human relationships—like marriages and friendships—are often tools for gaining and maintaining a desirable social position. In other words, social standing and wealth are ends in themselves, and the rest of life serves those ends, causing people to sacrifice their own desires, and ultimately their happiness, for the sake of money and status. In particular, aristocratic characters—like Pierre Bezukhov and Sonya Rostov—postpone happiness or miss it altogether because they’re stuck…

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European Culture vs. The Russian Soul

Throughout the novel, Tolstoy contrasts aristocratic Russia (which is European-influenced, contrived, and often pretentious) and traditional Russia (which is more instinctual, more honest, and more authentic overall). Aristocrats aspire to “European” traits, like an obsession with French culture and the adoption of complicated German war strategies. However, these don’t work well in the long run—or at least they can’t suppress authentically “Russian” instincts in the novel’s characters, such as religious piety and love of life…

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Love, Marriage, and Family

War and Peace is filled with romances that have varying degrees of success. In many of these relationships, under pressure from society or their own youthful inexperience, people substitute all sorts of things—reputation, passion, or abstract ideals—for genuine love. One of the most obvious examples is Pierre and Hélène’s sham marriage, which is beautiful only in the eyes of society. In a very different scenario, when the debauched Anatole Kuragin flirts with Natasha

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War and Peace

Much of the novel focuses on major events of the Napoleonic Wars, especially during the years 1805-1807 and the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Tolstoy examines the details of war from many different angles—from councils of generals pre-battle to young hussar cadets under fire for the first time. Though Tolstoy discusses the broader scale of the wars and their international impact for decades to come, he also examines the behavior of individual soldiers to…

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Happiness and the Meaning of Life

In War and Peace, most major characters wrestle with how to live fulfilled, happy lives in a world that seems to be overwhelmed with suffering. For example, Pierre seeks meaning and stability in Freemasonry, a spiritual brotherhood that promises to cure him of his youthful debauchery, but he’s soon disillusioned by its members’ hypocrisy. Princess Marya, who’s otherwise an exemplar of genuine religious faith, finds that her virtue makes her vulnerable to a…

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Theory of History

In reaction to the rising prevalence of scientific theories in his day, Tolstoy opposed the notion that reality could be explained solely in terms of theories and systems. In his view, such systems push the possibility of divine will and the complexity of human events to the margins of history, thereby trying to reduce life to the easily explainable. In other words, people apply sweeping theories to life, or attribute historical movements to larger-than-life personalities…

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