Leo Tolstoy Hadji Murad Analysis Essay

“Hadji Murat” is a novel which differs itself by its lengths from all the other novels from Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy wrote it during the 19th century, and this novel was published postmortem, and it became a sensation in the literary world. Its length and thematic are also different from Tolstoy’s other works, and it stands out because of the author’s negative point of view of his characters. Through analysis of their actions and behaviors Tolstoy shows the negative side of human nature and expresses doubt about anything good existing in people.

The novel that is often called a smaller version of “Crime and Punishment” takes us to Caucasus in the mid 19th century where battles between Russians and Chechens were taking place. For better understanding of this work it is important to know that Russian took over Georgia and Chechen Republic. The Chechen spiritual guide and commander in chief Shamil stood up against the Russian invasion and he started a religious-political fight inspired with the idea of founding an Islamic state in Chechen. He fought the Russian until he was caught and executed in 1859 and his death was an indirect cause of the Caucasus wars.

It is assumed that Tolstoy found his inspiration in the story about a brave commander in chief Hadji Murat who participated in the insurrection of Muslim that wanted to be independent and form a religious state. When the leaders of the insurrection started having different opinions Shamil kills those who disagreed with him and Hadji Murat went to the opposite side – the Russians. Shamil was furious about Hadji going to the Russian and the Russians accepted him but Shamil imprisoned his family and threatened to kill them if  Hadji didn’t surrender himself.

Tolstoy heard about Hadji Murat while he was serving in the Caucasus and proof of that are the letters he sent to his brother. Even though he interrupted the writing of this novel several times he dedicated himself to it completely when he was anticipating his own death due to health reasons.  The prologue speaks about his health state and fear of death. He tells us about a meadow he’s sitting on observing a run over bush that’s still trying to stand up. While he is there, picking flowers, he remembers the story of Hadji Murat and introduces us to the first chapter and the plot.

Precisely because of those deep thoughts about the strength of an individual which is shown in his unwillingness to bow down in, what appear to be, situations without a way out the writer shows us that he is well aware of his health issues and the fact that he’s dying. It still doesn’t stop his writing and Tolstoy observes many different aspects of life and human actions and consequences. As the central theme we can take the struggle of an individual trying to stay faithful to his ideals and trying to fend off society’s rules as long as possible.

The next theme is the war between Chechens and Russians that can also be considered as a battle between East and West that is implemented into the Russian history. Tolstoy was well aware he won’t be alive to see his book getting published but through his letter, we find out that this book took his mind off of his illness and it helped him overcome his difficulties by focusing on the characters and their world.

Genre: novel

Time: 19th century

Place: Caucasus

Book Summary

The story begins with a prologue in which the author tells us about his time spent on a meadow observing run over bushes. He was trying to pick flowers and one of them was very resistant. When he picked it he was disappointed by its appearance after being picked. While he was walking down the meadow he saw another ran over bush whose flower was still trying to rise up. He compared the flower to Hadji Murat, the main character of this novel. Hadji Murat was a famous Chechen warrior who, after disagreeing with his commander in chief, decided to switch sides. He went to the Russian side because he knew the Chechens were about to lose and he still tried to liberate his family that was being held captive by the Chechen commander Shamil. Except wanting to save his family, he wanted to revenge all the people who died in the war.

By the end of November 1851, Hadji ran out of Shamil’s reach with his two faithful companions. He was exhausted from the journey, so he went to one of his political like-minded friend’s house. He and his companied were well received in the humble household but went the other residents of the village found out he was there they banished him.

Hadji’s lieutenant managed to contact the Russians that promised him a meeting with Hadji. Afterward, Hadji managed to come to the fortress where the Russian military was, and he was hoping he’ll gain their trust and support in taking down Shamil and freeing his family.

Before describing his arrival Tolstoy described a smaller confrontation between the Chechen soldiers that occurred outside the fortress. A young Russian soldier got shot and soon after he bled out in the military hospital. Tolstoy again inserted a story about his life that was completely excluded for the novel’s plot. He described his life and joining the military. He joined the military to take his brother’s place because his brother, unlike him, had a family so he perceived his military service less of a sacrifice. His father was sad about his decision because Tolstoy was much more successful and dedicated to his work than his brother.

During his time in the fortress, Hadji made friends with Prince Mikhail Vorontsov. It was easy for him to make the soldiers love him because he was charming and well behaved. They were astonished by his reputation and a spotless record. His manliness and honesty only made him even more charming, and everyone enjoyed his presence. Vorontsov, fascinated by his thought, gives him a pocket watch and Hadji was especially impressed and happy about his gesture.

On the fifth day of Hadji’s staying in Tiflis, the general sent Loris- Melikov to write Hadji’s story down. Now we find out even more about his past. He was born in a small village and his mother nursed the nobility’s children. When he was fifteen his village was visited by messengers calling everyone to go to war with Russia in order to free themselves and establish a religious state. Even though he rejected their offer at first, after talking to someone about the course of the war he decided to join it because he approved the war plan presented to him. During the first confrontation Shamil, who was in charge of Muslims in Russian captivity, humiliated Hadji.

Many struggles happened over the year and insurrections started inside the Chechen army because many of them though they will not be able to defeat the Russian army so Hamzat’s people start falling apart and leaving the military. Commander in chief Hamzat organized an attack to kill all the pro-Russian soldiers and take control over an area of Dagestan. The unexpected murder of his like-mind companions makes him think Hadji and his brother are against him but in a confrontation Hamzat got killed and all of his followers were banished. Hadji’s brother was also killed in the attack and Shamil takes Hamzat’s place as the new leader. Shamil called Hadji to join him but he was rejected and accused of killing Hadji’s brother and other soldiers. Shamil then imprisoned Hadji’s family – mother, wife and children.

The Russian military was aware of Hadji’s negotiating skills, so they decided to use him in negotiating with Shamil. Vorontsov’s intentions were destroyed by the Secretary of War who was always jealous of Vorontsov’s war accomplishments, so he took this chance to get back at him. Hadji was accused of espionage, and when that information reached King Nicholas, Hadji was put into the fortress under strickt supervision.

The author shifts the focus of the story on Nicholas’s description. He gives as a detail description of his character and personalities describing him as a lethargic, egoistic and bitter man who despised women, his brother-in-law, and the Russian students.

He commanded a military offensive against the Chechen and Hadji was forced to stay in the fortress. In the meantime, his mother, wife and son are moved to another place from which it will be even harder to free them. Hadji became aware of his position: the Russian didn’t trust him enough to let him fight Shamil and he couldn’t go back to Shamil because he would risk his own life and be sentenced as a traitor. He decided to run away from the fortress and gather some men who would help him liberate his family.

Tolstoy then starts jumping to future events and the ending of the plot by narrating in reverse Hadji’s runaway. He describes Russian militaries coming back to the fortress carrying Hadji’s head. Maria Dimitriyevna, Hadji’s friend, and Vorontsov’s wife was appalled by his death, the war, and its consequences. She was sad and bitter, so she started accusing men for wars calling them bloodthirsty butchers. Alongside her the soldiers described Hadji’s death.

Hadji managed to escape and shake off the guards who were following him with the help of five lieutenants who stayed faithful to him. While he was running across a swamp he realized he won’t be able to cross it so he hid away. An old man noticed him and his companions and he told everything to the fortress’s commander. Soon the soldiers surrounded Hadji. He and his followers regrouped and started an attack but they got injured. After his followers were murdered Hadji ran to the army, shooting his last bullets and seeing his life passing before his eyes. When he dropped dead to the ground her was decapitated. In the end Tolstoy repeats his comparison of Hadji Murat and the flower on the meadow.

Characters Analysis

Hadji Murat is the main protagonist and the novel is named after him. He was a man who was at a crossroad of life in a hopeless situation with no exit. He was standing between to opposite war sides and risked his life to save his family from captivity. At first he was against the war but later on he was seduced by other’s ideals and he made a name for himself in the army. During Hamzat’s revenge against people who didn’t see eye to eye with him and Hadji’s brother’s death he doubted everything he believed in. After realizing that a lot of it was a lie and he was a victim of politics, he decided to do something to revenge all the deaths.

By murdering Hamzat he showed courage and impulsiveness, which he later regretted and paid for when his family was abducted. Hadji opportunistically took the Russian’s side in order to save his family but when he lost their trust he decided to work alone starting a suicide mission which led nowhere. Hadji is described as a person that changes one belief for another, used to always fight and incapable to accept any situation that didn’t suite him. Even though he was valuable in negotiating, by losing his patience he lost his advantage.

The character is described so that the reader can relate to him but we can’t forget that every consequence emerged from his own choices and actions. Hadji’s character gives us an insight into the dark, calculated side of the human character. Solving problems by prolonging conflicts and provoking new problems is not the way to go as well as radical change of heart when the situation is undesirable. When Hadji was played by both sides he died a painful death and got even more humiliated by decapitation and we are left to wonder about the definition of heroism and honesty in human’s actions.

Shamil was the leader of the insurrection. He had a military and a religious function and he was a man so infatuated with his own ideal that he rushed to a downfall without caring about the consequences. Even though through the atmosphere he can see that the war is hopeless he doesn’t give up the fight. He was tall, strong, charismatic and cruel. Shamil captured Hadji’s family and used them as a weapon to kill Hadji. They also served him as an example of what will happen to everyone who tries to stand against him. Shamil is a tyrant and a dictator who justifies his means by his causes which are justice, religion and ideology.

Maria Dimitriyevna was Hadji’s friend and Vorontsov’s wife. She was gentle, compassionate, feminine and beautiful. He mourned Hadji’s death, and she is the metaphorical voice of reason and people’s desire to stop the wars. She was truly appalled by the war, its consequences, and she compared men to bloodthirsty butchers, and she is a genuine expression of Tolstoy’s point of view of the war.

Petrukha Avdeyev is a symbol of the man recruited because he was forced to. He served out of obligations, and he was indifferent. His only goal was to survive and get back to normal his normal life. He joined the military as a substitute for his brother who had a family, and he perceived the war as something he has to do. He did not get infatuated with some ideals, and he didn’t analyze the war’s meaning and higher cause.

His death seems to be meaningless because he didn’t die in the war but in a simple fight which emphasized the absurdity of war as well as the fact that a single solider is an easy replaceable part of a big machine. Tolstoy tried to give him some importance by telling us his life story. He also emphasized his father’s sadness when his son went to the military. Petrukha is the symbol of collateral damage killed on duty while not even carrying about the war. He is a small, simple man whose faith ripped him apart from his home which highlights the futility of his death.

Nicholas was described as a bitter, lethargic man who had a terrible attitude towards women and he treated them like they had less of a worth. He also abused his brother-in-law, the Prussian emperor and his followers. Through Nicholas’s description Tolstoy gives us the general insight into the atmosphere of Russia, its constant battles and other consequences provoked by the reign of a narrow-minded emperor. Nicholas’s character is also a metaphor for governance that only sees its own interests, not carrying about its subjects and unwilling to accept anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with them.

Leo Tolstoy Biography

Leo Tolstoy was a Russian novelist born in 1828. A profound social and moral thinker, Tolstoy was one of the greatest writers of realistic fiction during his time. The son of a nobleman landowner, Tolstoy was orphaned at the age of 9 and taught mainly by tutors from countries like Germany and France.

At the young age of 16, he enrolled in Kazan University but quickly became dissatisfied with his studies and dropped out soon after. After a brief, futile attempt to improve the conditions of the serfs on his estate, he plunged into the dissipations of Moscow’s high society.

In 1851, Tolstoy joined his brother’s regiment at the Caucasus, where he first met with Cossacks. He later portrayed the true cossacks life with sympathy and poetic realism in his novel ‘The Cossacks’, published in 1863. Tolstoy completed two autobiographical novels during his time in the regiment, and the works received instant acclaim.

Back in Saint Petersburg (now Leningrad) Tolstoy became interested in the education of peasants and started a local elementary school that fostered progressive education.

In 1862 he married 18-year-old Sofya Andreyevna Bers, a member of a cultured Moscow family. In the next 15 years, he raised a large family, ultimately having 19 children. During this time he also managed his estate and wrote his two most famous novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

In the uniquely candid powerful novel Confession, Tolstoy described his spiritual unrest and started his long journey toward moral and social certainty. He found them in two principals of the Christian gospels: love for all human beings and resistance to the forces of evil. From within autocratic Russia, Tolstoy fearlessly attacked social inequality and coercive forms of government and church authority. His didactic essays, translated into many different languages, won hearts in many countries and from all walks of life, many of whom visited him in Russia seeking advice.

At the age of 82, increasingly tormented by the disparity between his teachings, his personal wealth and by endless fights with his wife, Tolstoy walked away from his home late one night.

He became ill three days later and died on November 20, 1910 at a remote railway station. At his death, he was praised over the world for being a wonderfully moral man. That force and his timeless and universal art continue to provide inspiration today.

In all of Tolstoy's fiction there is a tension between his need to preach and his prodigious talents as a story-teller and scene-setter. Increasingly, as he grew older, he was concerned with the great stained soul of his own country, interested in matters of religion and reform. Thus his skills at establishing the complexity of a single character through subtle and inspired use of detail and nuanced shades of feeling seemed, especially after the completion of Anna Karenina in 1877, to come second to his need to change the world. His short novels and stories written between then and his death in 1910 appear like beautiful moments of pure forgetfulness, times when his own great restless spirit was distracted and he managed to allow his political and religious preoccupations to play against the glittering constructs of his imagination.

Sometimes in the last 30 years of his life it was his very hatred for authority that caused him to tell a story that would place the authority in disrepute. In his fury he could work fast. "After the Ball" was written in one day in 1903. It told a story of great tenderness and cruelty, as a young man, in love with a colonel's daughter, experiences a night of rapture at a ball, which is full of luxury and civilisation. And then at dawn he witnesses the colonel, who a few hours earlier had been dancing, mercilessly overseeing a prisoner being savagely beaten as he runs the gauntlet.

Hadji Murad was written in the same period and was Tolstoy's last major piece of fiction to be completed. In the year before his death his wife wrote in her diary: "I have done nothing but copy out Hadji Murad. It's so good! I simply couldn't tear myself away from it." It was not published until 1912.

Although Tolstoy used his own experiences as a young soldier in the story - he lost money at gambling, as does Butler - he also did a good deal of research, reading memoirs and military histories and pestering his cousin, who knew life at court, for information about Nicholas I. "I absolutely must find the key to him," he wrote in 1903. "That is why I am collecting information, reading everything that relates to his life and personality. Mostly what I need are details of his daily life, what are called the anecdotes of history."

He saw his warlord hero trapped between two despots. "It is not only Hadji Murad and his tragic end that interest me," he wrote. "I am fascinated by the parallel between two main figures pitted against each other: Shamil and Nicholas I. They represent two poles of absolutism - Asiatic and European."

This fascination, however, belonged merely to Tolstoy's genius as a polemicist and public figure; his real fascination lay with the complex and untidy and unpredictable life that lay between the two poles. As an artist, he loved the pull of opposites within a character; he loved characters behaving out-of-character; and he also loved establishing a poetic moment in his fiction, a shimmering ending to a scene, for example, whose point was to create mystery and strangeness, because these interested his deeper nature more than any set of patterns or parallels.

In the opening pages of the story, we learn in ways that are beautifully concrete and memorable that Hadji Murad commands love and respect and loyalty. Soon, we watch the mixture of care and courtesy with which he moves. Having surrendered, he can be charming and beguiling and then suddenly turn watchful and serious, stubborn and proud. He has become as mercurial and interesting as his author who also, in the years when he invented this warlord, was caught between degrees of disloyalty to the tsar and the tsar's enemies.

The spirit that guided Tolstoy's imagination was, at times, immensely tender. He wrote with sympathy and perception here about love and grief, finding it impossible to pass over a scene without allowing a background character a moment of yearning, or without insisting on offering a dramatic background to his minor figures. Neither could he resist drawing a portrait of the military that showed the officers awash with petty jealousy and boastfulness. And while Hadji Murad's story is one of loyalty and bravery in the face of treachery, the tsar Nicholas I is merely venal and lecherous and obsessed with his own greatness. The pleasure Tolstoy must have felt at depicting the infidel warlord as full of love for his family and the tsar as one-dimensional and moody and cruel is palpable.

Tolstoy's Nicholas I in Hadji Murad is a feline creature whose arbitrary cruelties equal his vanity. Entering into his mind, coldly observing the obsequiousness of life at his court, and balancing this against the death of an ordinary soldier or Hadji Murad's surrender, give the story the aura of a compass needle as it seeks to pin-point Russia with its despotic ruler and its long-suffering population. Tolstoy, the fearless old preacher in his rural exile, must have written the court scenes with relish. In Section XVII, when the villagers return to find their homes in ruins, you can feel his blind rage all the more strongly because he has introduced the villagers earlier in the story as though they were merely a small, placid stage on Hadji Murad's road to surrender.

His rage and his relish give way, however, to an extraordinary sympathy for Hadji Murad that has nothing to do with preaching or politics and everything to do with the sheer range and power of Tolstoy's imagination. The scene where Hadji Murad gets ready to depart to rescue his family, for example, is one of pure emotion. The tug of memory and fierce attachment, the vision of his mother as young and handsome, and his son dressed and armed when he had last seen him, are set against the song of the nightingale and the noise of preparation.

Tolstoy's empathy is at its softest when he dramatises one of his central preoccupations - the innocent love of a young man for another man's wife. Early in Hadji Murad, Poltoratsky feels this love for Marya Vasilevna, just as towards the end Butler feels it for Marya Dmitrievna. This is part of the general patterning of the story in sets of doubles: the strange echoes between the fate of Sado's son and the threats to Hadji Murad's son, for example; or Nicholas I and Shamil, the despots who both order executions and experience similar uneasy feelings of lust, who exude power and pride, but whose self-delusion is almost matched with concealed guilt and self-reproach.

Hadji Murad himself stands against doubleness and patterning. Too headstrong and human, too proud and brave, too foolhardy and defenceless, too ready to let love dominate his plans, he towers above all those around him, fierce and independent. At the end, after the great quietness of the preparations for departure, just as Tolstoy has distracted us with thoughts of love, his hero's bloody and gruesome end comes as a shock. In his description of the last battle, which was also his own last description, the old master's essential genius - the art of making us see as though we were a witness - comes into its own with a pathos and majesty and pure excitement worthy of his great career.

© Colm TÀibÀn 2003 This is from Colm TÀibÀn's introduction to Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoy published by Hesperus.

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