The Cossacks Questions and Answers
by Leo Tolstoy

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Analyze the values and worldviews concerning the Eurasian frontier presented in the The Cossacks. Explain the Cossacks’ perception of Russians presented in The Cossacks and why Olenin did not fit the stereotype. Compare and contrast notions of Russian “civilization” with the ideals of Cossack life represented by Maryanka, Lukashka, and Uncle Yeroshka. Discuss the central place that values of freedom, love, and happiness hold in the story.

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The Cossacks, like other stories Tolstoy sets in the Caucasus and outlying areas of the Russian Empire, is both an examination of the culture of non-Russians living under the Czar and a critique of Russian culture and values.

Olenin, like Tolstoy himself, is a member of the Russian aristocracy. A recurring them in Tolstoy's work is the somewhat hypocritical attitude and behavior of Russian upper-class men, particularly regarding sexual matters. When the story opens, Olenin has apparently just broken off an affair, feeling somewhat guilty about it but also trying to rationalize his actions. In a change of setting, serving in the army in the Caucasus, Olenin hopes to get a fresh start on life. What he observes in the Cossacks is in many ways the opposite of the jaded and world-weary Russian upper-class culture of which he's been a part. First, the Cossacks are genuinely devout Christians. Though the behavior of Cossack men is wild and "uncivilized," Olenin perceives in them a type of...

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