Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The best quotations from Hadji Murad are probably those that relate to the most general and universal points Tolstoy makes throughout his novella. A major theme is that of the persistence of human societies against outside forces that attempt to conquer them, as the Russians are attempting to do to the Caucasus region in the story. A crushed thistle in a field serves as a symbol of such persistence; it has been beaten underfoot and run over, but it still lives. The narrator notes:
Man has conquered everything and destroyed millions of plants, yet this one won't submit.
At the end of the story just after Hadji Murad is killed, the narrator says,
It was of this death that I was reminded by the crushed thistle in the midst of the ploughed field.
Just before mentioning the thistle at the novella's close and immediately after Murad's death, the narrator observes that
The nightingales, that had hushed their songs while the firing lasted, now started their trills once more, first one quite close, then others in the distance.
One might place this last quotation in the context of what the nightingale often symbolizes in literary works, such as in the poems of Goethe, Keats, Matthew Arnold, and many others.
Tolstoy's depiction of many of the Russians contrasts sharply with the heroism he sees in the Muslim Caucasus people. Tsar Nicholas I, especially, is shown as a self-important fool, totally amoral and without empathy. A memorable quote describes him entering the reception hall to be greeted by his courtiers:
He came out to them with a lifeless look in his eyes, his chest expanded, his stomach bulging out above and below its bandages, and feeling everybody's gaze tremulously and obsequiously fixed upon him he assumed an even more triumphant air.
At the reception, a Russian official named Lieven makes the comment that
Poland and the Caucasus are the two things that burn the flesh of Russia.
It is typical of an imperialistic power's elites that although they wish to control other peoples, they complain constantly of the trouble the foreign nations give them. Tolstoy's overall message is a severe condemnation of the Russian Empire and, by extension, of European imperialism in general. All of the above quotations relate in some way to this theme.