The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


In War and Peace, Tolstoy challenges Western European notions of Russian backwardness and ‘barbarity’ through his depiction of the virtuousness, spiritual wisdom, and rich cultural traditions of the common Russian people. This idealized portrayal of Russian peasants and soldiers is essential to Tolstoy’s construction of a Russian national myth that unites members of all social classes behind a shared set of values. However, in turning the Russian peasantry into idealized, oversimplified caricatures that lack individuality, complexity, agency, and the ability for critical thought, Tolstoy reduces these characters to mere instruments that provide morally edifying lessons to Russia’s elites. This imposition of an essentializing and instrumentalizing narrative on the peasant class, weakens Tolstoy’s national myth and mirrors the orientalist depiction of Russia perpetuated by the West.