Childhood, Boyhood, Youth Characters

Leo Tolstoy


(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Nikolai Petrovich Irtenev

Nikolai Petrovich Irtenev (nee-koh-LAY peh-TROH-vich eer-TEH-nev), a ten-year-old child of a well-to-do Russian family. In this semiautobiographical novel in three parts, he grows into an adolescent and a student at Moscow University. In his formative years, he shows some constant traits: He is self-centered, insecure, sensitive, capricious, and outspoken, with a tendency to philosophize. He also displays some contradictions, depending on circumstances: He is often devious, yet strives for forthrightness; he is stubborn, yet submissive; loving, yet sometimes fickle or even cruel; ambitious, yet at times irresponsible; shy, yet capable of resolute acts; and both confident and self-pitying. His obsessive self-doubts concerning his looks often prevent him from engaging in normal relationships. He is given to daydreaming, and his artistic talent is expressed through his sharp observations as the narrator of the novel. Nikolai’s most important character trait is his burning desire to achieve a moral equilibrium that would allow him to orient himself properly in the bewildering period of growing up. He reflects the author’s lifelong struggle for moral perfection.

Vladimir Petrovich

Vladimir Petrovich (vlad-DEE-mihr), Nikolai’s older brother, who often is his exact opposite. He has a happy, big-hearted disposition. He is more sensible and practical, much more decisive, less emotional, conscious of his rights, and understanding...

(The entire section is 671 words.)