Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Hadji Murad, the narrator seems detached; the novella is free from the didacticism of most of Tolstoy’s later work. Yet, though its themes are not overt, it is not without values and implicit meanings. One of these is the tyranny of unbridled power, whether wielded by the czar or the Moslem Imam—both of whom are ruthless and treacherous. Contrasted to this power are the values of loyalty, honor, courtesy, and generosity generally shown by the mountain people. The freedom of their wild way of life is threatened by the encroachment of the Russian empire, as well as by the fanaticism of Shamil. Though Hadji Murad twice changes sides, he does so only under extreme provocation; otherwise, he is intensely loyal to his family, friends, and followers, and the Caucasians hold him in great respect. On the other hand, the Russian soldiers spend much of their time in debauchery, while the self-serving Russian leaders maneuver for personal advancement. Czar Nicholas I, with his adulterous, sanctimonious, and cruel behavior, is absolutely unfit to rule. As in most of Tolstoy’s later work, the best people are the peasants, who are close to the soil, devout, kind, and live from day to day without the canker of ambition.

Another implied theme is the horror of warfare. By the time he wrote Hadji Murad, Tolstoy was a pacifist, and though there are few combat scenes in the novella, the scenes included make a powerful case against war. One episode is a skirmish that occurs when a Russian troop on a tree-felling expedition (one Russian tactic against the mountaineers is to destroy their forest) is fired upon by the Chechen that had pursued Hadji Murad. The Russian commander, Poltoratsky, sees war as a lark and, for sport, pursues the...

(The entire section is 716 words.)