Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Raid” (subtitled “A Volunteer’s Story”), Leo Tolstoy offers a fictional elaboration of Plato’s theory of courage. For Tolstoy, real bravery is in the knowledge of what one should and what one should not fear. Contrary to more typically romantic notions of bravery, in which the hero is the one who goes against exaggerated odds with no rational thought of the consequences (as does, for example, Ensign Alanin), Tolstoy defines bravery as the ability to size up a situation and act logically (as does Captain Hlopov). More elaborate, but similar, examples of Tolstoy’s theory of courage are found frequently in his later fiction, especially in Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886).

In a broader sense, “The Raid” is a compelling account of people’s fear, anxiety, and cowardice in the face of death. Tolstoy is particularly interested in describing different people’s reactions to war and combat, especially how they deal with the ever-present possibility of being killed. Although Tolstoy himself later became a pacifist and an active opponent of war and the use of force that war represents, there is in “The Raid” praise (sometimes subtle, more often overt) for such values as patriotism, loyalty to country and comrades in arms, and duty. Tolstoy moralizes very little about the horrors of war. Instead he approaches war as a kind of necessary category of history. As such, it is philosophically neutral, beyond good and evil. Although the lives of some are winnowed away in war, those who survive have added another dimension of valuable experience to their personal lives, which have been enhanced by the exposure to danger and uncertainty, ultimately resulting in an increased love of life.