These characters do not always appear frequently throughout the chapters but permeate every societal sector and are centrally involved in the main themes surrounding these two pieces of literature. In the novel War and Peace, there is one political figure that is central to the development of the whole novel. This character does not appear often, yet the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, is the topic of conversation for the whole population. From the opening of the novel; it is readily apparent that this solitary man dominates all conversations and thoughts of society.
Anna Pavlovna Scherer states in the beginning, “if you will allow yourself to condone all the ghastly atrocities perpetrated by that Antichristâ€”yes, that’s what I think he isâ€”I shall disown you” War 5. While Scherer’s contempt is shared by many of the other characters, the infatuation with war and Bonaparte did not dissipate. The contradicting opinions of Napoleon were also visible at the estate of Prince Nicholas Bolkonski. Three characters got into a heated discussion and Andrew had the audacity to disagree with his father on the subject of Bonaparte.
This disagreement represents the depth in which to Bonaparte has permeated society; he represented the strain of war on families and relationships. As the novel progressed, Napoleon became the symbol of war and suffering for the whole of Russian society. This was a drastic change from the original idea of Bonaparte; a god-like figure. The intensity of his old image was unbelievably compelling. This was evident on June 12th, 1812 when while crossing the Niemen River, the French and Polish troops were inspired to swim across in hopes of proving their dedication and zeal.
This influence dissipated rapidly, though, with the outcomes of the Battle of Borodino and the failed invasion of Moscow. The loss seemed unacceptable to the French due to this idea of invincibility that Bonaparte had established and thus his creditability declined, “it is beyond our comprehension that millions of Christian men should have killed and tortured each other just because Napoleon was a megalomaniac” War 668. Napoleon contributed extensively to the book’s central themes and to the development of the main messages in War and Peace.
One such theme was the idea of spirit reigning over power, the struggle for love over money and the value of life and propriety over the materialistic values of life. Napoleon’s loss did not come from a lack of supplies but because Bonaparte merely craved supremacy while the Russians were fighting for the greater good and thus triumphed in the end. Tolstoy’s other novel, Anna Karenina, shares similarities with War and Peace. Both of these pieces of literature involve a character in which the fundamental themes of the novel are instigated by a seemingly trivial character.
The character, Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky, serves as the catalyst for the plot and several themes of Anna Karenina. Unlike War and Peace which involves love on a more simplistic scale; Anna Karenina is a representation of the many faceted idea of love which involves futile attempts at marriage, family, and the reprehensible passion of adultery. These concepts of love are further differentiated by the broad range of characters who work together to establish the foundation of a well-rounded society.
Stepan plays an essential role in this society by defining the predominant themes of adultery and the inner child from the very beginning. Adultery characterizes this entire literary work; commencing with Stepan’s acts of infidelity and continuing with Anna’s sacrilegious decision to cheat ultimately ending in a divorce. Looking back on the novel, it is readily apparent that Stepan’s rash and insensitive actions influenced Anna to follow his philandering attitude. Regardless of whether Stepan was right or wrong, Anna’s lack of self-judgment reveals a weak and adverse personality.
Stepan, on the other hand, was a controversial character; his apparent beliefs that passion came before society and commitment was a choice conflicted with his good values of honesty. When Stepan’s liaison with his children’s governess erupted into the open, his honesty was undeniable, “he must not goâ€¦nothing could come out of it but falsity; that to amend, to set right their relations was impossible, because it was impossible to make her attractive again and able to inspire love” 12.
The other theme that Stepan wholly encompasses is the immaturity of adults; his actions can be readily compared to a child stealing a cookie from the cookie jarâ€”he either does not understand the severity of his actions or simply does not care. The lack of control and responsibility in which Stepan handles his life is absorbed by Anna thus instigating her childish decision to cheat, insensible jealousy, and her suicide.
Stepan was more of a central character then Bonaparte yet he fulfilled the same duty of adding to the development of the basic themes which traversed throughout the entire novel. Both War and Peace and Anna Karenina were novels that dealt with issues that still run rampant today; war and death, the search for love and running away from love. Tolstoy incorporated key characters to help cultivate these ideas that permeate society in order to create a timeless, multidimensional novel that still correlates to the problems of today.