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Tolstoy Essay for University class

antigeorge 1 / -  
May 9, 2023   #1
Looking for critiques/comments on this paper I wrote for a literature class.

"Master and Man"

The short story "Master and Man" (1895) epitomizes Tolstoy's use of antithesis and dramatic irony to communicate his didactic values and ontological theories in the realist tradition. Written in Tolstoy's third period of authorship, critics recognize "Master and Man" as an exemplar of his Christian ideologies and asceticism which characterized his later works. "Tolstoy's later writings, including his non-fictional works, were often framed in didactic and moralistic terms, in which he aimed to instruct his readers on the principles of ethical living, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment. These works reflected his own religious and ethical beliefs, which he had developed through his engagement with Christianity, philosophy, and literature." (Tussing 54). This didacticism in "Master and Man" is framed through a balance of dramatic irony, antithesis, and realism which illustrate the author's personal values and ideologies.

The novella chronicles the moral transformation of a landed estate owner, Vasily Andreyevich Brekhunov, and Nikita, one of his servants. Vasily is portrayed as avaricious, barbarous, and materialistic. He overrides Nikita's caution to wait out a storm because he is insistent on buying some new property. Nikita, by contrast, is portrayed as a gregarious, cooperative individual, who complies without complaint to Brekhunov's demands. He gives all of his wages to his wife and only aspires to make enough money to give his son a horse. Nikita is aware that his master is cheating him out of his wages, but he accepts it humbly "He was quite aware that Vasily Andreevich was cheating him, but at the same time he felt that it was useless to try to clear up his accounts with him or explain his side of the matter, and that as long as he had nowhere else to go he must accept what he could get" (197).

The antithesis between Vasily and Nikita is founded upon their disparate social classes. The position of Vasily as a "master" within the 19th-century Russian estate system hones the notion of the peasantry being considered subhuman and inferior. Vasily, a member of the landed gentry, continuously remarks on his superiority as a master over peasant Nikita, even referring to him as a "fool" and a "shiftless person". Ironically, the narrator describes several immoral acts committed by Vasily. Despite being a church elder, Vasily appropriates 2,300 rubles of church money to buy the property. In addition, he is cheating Nikita out of his wages, and conspired to cheat him even further by over-charging him for a horse "Vasily Andreevich did not pay Nikita the eighty rubles a year such a man was worth, but only about forty, which he gave him in irregular intervals, in small sums, and even that mostly not in cash,but in goods from his own shop and at high prices" (196). This turpitude is paralleled with Nikita's humility, who continues his generosity towards Vasily and his family, even offering his own cloth to make his master more comfortable "There, that will be comfortable sitting," he went on, suiting the action to the words and tucking the drugget all round over the straw to make a seat." (198).

The antithesis between the two characters is brought into sharp review when the two characters are faced with death due to the storm. While Vasily panics at the thought of losing his life, his opportunities, and possessions, Nikita is unperturbed by the discomfort of the cold and reflects on his death with contentment "The Thought that he might, and very probably would, die that night occurred to him, but didn't seem particularly unpleasant or dreadful. It didn't seem particularly unpleasant, because his whole life had never been a continual holiday" (226). Alternately, Vasily is deeply fearful of death and worried about the future of his material possessions and accomplishments "The more he tried to think of his accounts, his business, his reputation, his worth and his wealth, the more was he mastered by fear, and regrets that he hadn't stayed" (224). The parallels between the two characters serve to exemplify Tolstoy's principles of spiritual fulfillment and ethical living. Vasily, a member of the ruling class, is deeply disconnected from nature and spirituality. His attachment to material belongings puts him in a position of captivity and unhappiness, whereas Nikita's asceticism grants him freedom from serfdom as well as self-control. Through this antithesis, the author intrinsically connects immorality to financial and material ambition.

Brekhunov's repeated contempt towards the peasant class is turned with his sudden realization of the virtues of humility and self-sacrifice. Brekhunov, after abandoning Nikita and wandering off on his own, suddenly realizes his material possessions can do nothing for him. He runs back to find Nikita, where he is overcome by a "warmth" in response to his selfless act of covering Nikita. His fear leaves him and he experiences true happiness for the first time in his life. "'Seems I was badly frightened and have gone quite weak.' he thought. But this weakness was not only not unpleasant, but gave him a peculiar joy such as he had never felt before'" (231). This unexpected moral transformation articulates Tolstoy's ontological values. It is through Nikita, who Vasily considers to be "wretched" (223), that he avoids a "meaningless death" (229). The sudden ironic events of Vasily's transformation also contradict what is expected by the reader, and serve to drive home the central message that self-denial is what leads to prosperity, happiness, and fulfillment.

Additionally, Tolstoy utilizes synecdoche to create irony between the "warmth" of self-fulfillment and kindness and the "cold" of loneliness and avarice. Vasily repeatedly reports feeling "cold" despite his warm accommodations, "Although Vasily Andreevich felt quite warm in his two fur coats, especially after struggling in the snow-drift, a cold shiver ran down his back" (219). It is only through opening his own coat and sacrificing his heat that he feels true comfort and warmth. "Covering him not only with his fur coat but with the whole of his body, which glowed with warmth" (230). This use of this irony furthers Tolstoy's paradoxical message that self-sacrifice is the key to prosperity.

Tolstoy's depiction of the antithetical characters is not linear, however. Constructed with realist detail, both characters have corresponding complexity to their moral identities. Nikita, throughout the story, reflects on his sins of terrorizing his wife and rampant alcoholism "Sins?" he thought, and remembered his drunkenness, the money that had gone on drink, how he'd offended his wife, his cursing, his neglect of church and the fasts, and all the things the priest blamed him for at confession" (226). Similarly, Vasily shows some concern for his wife and Nikita at the start of the story "It seems I must humor my old woman. But if you're coming you'd better put on a warmer cloak" (199). This complexity and detail grounds the story in Tolstoy's realist tradition.

Tolstoy's narrative employs dramatic irony, antithesis, and realism to uniquely depict Christian didactic principles and ontological values. The parallels from the characters reveal the paradoxical notion that it is through self-sacrifice and denial that one receives freedom from the drudgery of life and the fear of death. The author's presentation of the narrative is not one-dimensional, but complex and realistic, grounding the figurative devices with the objectivity and truth of Tolstoy's realism. Overall, "Master and Man" imparts a powerful message about the nature of 19th-century Russian society, class, spirituality, and morality.
Holt  Educational Consultant - / 13,858 4558  
May 10, 2023   #2
Try to avoid the use of citations within the first paragraph of the essay. That is to allow you to give a full and believable opinion summary leading into the later discussion paragraphs. In fact, the essay is actually citation heavy, making it seem like you are only focused on meeting the word count that the essay requires, rather than actually discussing the novel. There should be shorter quotes from the book and more of your explanation in reference to your understanding of the events as narrated. The essay is not really effective as a critique because of the excessive citations. You need to develop a longer explanation or opinion after citing the page. You cannot leave the opinion or critique with just one sentence or two after it.

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