Last Updated on September 13, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 874
Note: These chapter summaries refer to Louise and Aylmer Maude’s translation of Hadji Murad.
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On his way home one midsummer evening, the narrator sees a beautiful thistle in a plowed field and marvels at the resilience of a plant that has survived when everything around it has been destroyed. The tenacity of the thistle reminds him of an episode which took place in the Caucasus in 1851.
This episode begins with Hadji Murad, apparently escaping from an enemy, riding into a hostile Chechen village, where he visits the house of Sado, one of his loyal supporters. It is revealed that Murad is fleeing from Imam Shamil, the leader of the Caucasian Avars, who has captured his mother, wife, and children. Sado receives Murad in his house, though he is aware that he faces death for doing so. Together, Murad and Sado arrange to send messages to Prince Vorontsov, the Russian commander at the Fort of Vozvizhensk, and to one of Murad’s sons, who is a prisoner in Shamil’s camp.
A party of Russian soldiers lie in ambush near the Fort of Vozvizhensk. They are mainly there to prevent the Chechens from dragging up cannon to fire on the fort and do not take their duty very seriously. Two of the soldiers, Avdeev and Panov, are smoking and talking about the company commander embezzling money and about how they deal with the tedium of life in this remote place.
The Russian soldiers hear men approach, speaking Chechen. When challenged, the men say that they come in peace and wish to speak to Prince Vorontsov, the Colonel. Avdeev takes them to him and, upon returning, remarks that the Chechens are good fellows, just like Russians, and that he enjoyed talking to them.
Prince Vorontsov is at home, playing cards with his wife and guests, when he is called away by his valet, who says that the officer on duty wishes to speak to him. When the prince returns, he is evidently very pleased and calls for champagne.
Although Prince Vorontsov refuses to tell his wife, Princess Marya Vasilevna, why he is so pleased, when their guests have departed, she guesses the reason, saying, “It was Hadji Murad, wasn’t it?” Vorontsov confirms that he has made an appointment to meet Hadji Murad the next day.
In the middle of the night, Sado comes to the room where Hadji Murad is sleeping to tell him that his arrival was observed, and now everyone in the village knows that he is staying in Sado’s house. The Elders have sent men from the mosque to detain Murad, but he escapes into the forest.
In the forest, Murad finds Gamzalo, his sworn brother, and three other friends sitting around a fire. They put out the fire, and Murad says his nightly prayer. He then falls into deep thought. He thinks of how Vorontsov will give him an army with which to attack Imam Shamil, and he will gain his revenge and be rewarded by the Russian Tsar. He falls asleep and is awakened by the men he sent to Vorontsov, who confirm that the Russian commander will be pleased to meet him the next day.
After a brief skirmish between a Russian wood-cutting party and a few Chechens, in which Avdeev is wounded, Prince Vorontsov rides out to accept Hadji Murad’s surrender. They speak through interpreters, and Murad expresses his wish to serve the Russian Tsar. Vorontsov and Murad ride back to the fort with their retinues.
When the Russian soldiers see Hadji Murad, they comment on how many men he has killed and what a fine warrior he is. Murad does not understand their words but smiles when he realizes that they are talking about him, and both he and Vorontsov enter the fort in a cheerful frame of mind.
The Maude translation preserves the simplicity and purity of Tolstoy’s style, a style which is particularly evident in this section, where unfamiliar vocabulary is used to provide a contrast between the Chechens and the Russians. As Hadji Murad rides into the aoul of Makhmet, he is greeted by the scent of kizyak and the chant of muezzins. He is described as a naib, who is accustomed to ride out with dozens of murids. All these words create an Orientalist atmosphere that emphasizes the distinct culture of the Caucasus and contrasts with the more straightforward descriptions and dialogue used to depict the Russian soldiers.
Despite this contrast and the fact that Hadji Murad is shown to be a unique individual, it is clear that the character who most resembles him in personality and values is not another Chechen but the young, ambitious Russian commander, Prince Vorontsov. The superficiality of what divides the Russians and the Chechens, and the essential nature of what unites them, is emphasized not only by the understanding between Murad and Vorontsov, but also by the experience of Avdeev with the Chechen messengers. Having conducted the “shaven-headed lads” to his commander, Avdeev returns with the observation that they are “just like Russians” and that he had a good talk with them. This introduces one of Tolstoy’s characteristic themes: the universality of human values and motivations.