Chapters 16-20 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 16

In accordance with the Tsar’s wishes, a detachment of Russian soldiers makes a raid in Chechnya. The party is soon attacked by a group of mounted Chechens in a ravine, which is soon filled with smoke and powder as the Russian guns fire on the riders, who quickly retreat. The advancing Russians come to a village, where they burn the crops and the houses. As they leave the village, the Chechens fire on them, but the fire ceases as soon as they come to an open space.

Butler, one of the young officers, who has recently transferred from a regiment of Guards in Saint Petersburg, reflects on how fortunate he is to be a member of such a fine company in the Caucasus. He transferred because he had lost at cards, but now he finds that he enjoys the life of a Caucasian soldier, with a little exciting action, which does not seem to him particularly dangerous, before a good meal and a refreshing sleep.

Chapter 17

The village destroyed by the Russians was the one where Hadji Murad had stayed in Sado’s house before he surrendered to the Russians. Sado had left his home as the soldiers approached and now returns to find his house destroyed and his son dead. He hears the crying of women and children, and the fountain has been deliberately polluted so that the water is undrinkable. The mosque has also been polluted in the same way. The feeling of the Chechens for the Russians is stronger than hatred, since they do not regard their enemies as human. They want to exterminate the Russians, like rats or poisonous spiders. After praying, the villagers set to work to rebuild what the Russians have destroyed.

Chapter 18

The day after the raid, Butler, the young Russian officer, is feeling pleased with life and with his own role in the previous day’s affair. He hears the sound of horses’ hooves, then sees twenty Cossacks, with a man in a turban and a Russian officer at their head. The officer asks Butler if this is the house of the commander of the troops at the fort and tells him that the man in the turban is Hadji Murad.

Butler goes to fetch the commanding officer, Major Petrov, who is suffering from a hangover. The officer accompanying Hadji Murad gives the major written orders to find lodgings for Murad, who gives him the guest chamber in his own house. Hadji Murad stays with Major Petrov and sets up a network of spies to bring him news of Imam Shamil.

Chapter 19

Imam Shamil had been campaigning against the Russians, but on January 6th, 1852, he returned to his headquarters at Vedeno, where he has been holding Hadji Murad’s family. People fired off rifles and pistols to greet him as he rode into the village, and everyone looked eagerly at him, but he looked at no one. Although the celebrations give the appearance of triumph, Shamil knows quite well that he has been defeated and forced by the Russians to retreat to Vedeno.

Shamil is weary and wants only to rest, but he has duties to perform, both as an Imam and as a secular leader. He considers Hadji Murad’s case and has Murad’s son, Yusuf, brought before him. Yusuf admires the Imam and does not understand his father’s hostility. He tells Shamil that he deplores his father’s action in siding with the Russians, and Shamil orders him to write a letter to his father. The letter will offer forgiveness if Hadji Murad returns to the Chechen cause and...

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fights with Shamil. If he refuses and remains with the Russians, however, Shamil will behead Yusuf. Then he changes his mind and says that he will spare Yusuf’s life whatever happens, but he will put out his eyes.

Chapter 20

Both Butler and Maria Dmitrievna become friendly with Hadji Murad, and Butler goes so far as to procure Chechen clothes and imagine himself living the life of a mountaineer in the Caucasus. On the day when Murad leaves Major Petrov’s house, Arslan Khan, one of the Kumukh princes who hates Murad, comes to visit the major. Seeing Murad, he immediately tries to shoot him, but Murad dodges the shot. The two men begin to fight but are separated by Butler and Eldar. Butler does not understand why Arslan Khan would want to kill Murad but is told that it is a matter of a blood feud. Butler and Maria Dmitrievna both praise Murad’s character and wish the Russian soldiers would follow his example of courtesy and wisdom.


This section of the narrative introduces Butler, the young captain from Saint Petersburg who is so enamored of life in the Caucasus. Butler has a romantic, naïve idea of what it means to serve as a soldier in the Caucasus and approaches battle in the spirit of an athletic contest or a game of football. He has an exciting skirmish with the Chechens, burns down a village, then goes home to a good dinner and a sound sleep.

Tolstoy’s gift for human sympathy is so acute that the reader is likely to sympathize with Butler and share his zest for life and war. However, it is the same sympathy that informs the next chapter, a devastatingly succinct account of what happens when the villagers return home and find their houses destroyed, their crops burned, their fountain and their mosque polluted. Suddenly, Tolstoy shows that war is no game.

The high-spirited Russian captain whose excitement was described in the preceding chapter is regarded by the Chechens not merely as an enemy, but as an unspeakable vermin, like a rat or a spider, fit only to be extinguished. Tolstoy shows that evil deeds do not necessarily require evil men. Human misery is created by mere tribalism and thoughtlessness.


Chapters 11-15 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 21-25 Summary and Analysis