Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 290

The principal themes of Tolstoy's story are, I would argue, 1) individual heroism and integrity versus group corruption and evil, and 2) the right of self-determination of all nationalities, and the wrongness of imperialism and of the attempt by one people to force its ways and its values on another.

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The title character comes into conflict with others of his own north-Caucasus Muslim national group, partly because of his own independent spirit but also because he does not agree with their ruthless tactics. This leads him to negotiate with the Russians on his own, but the Russians eventually do not trust him either. It is impossible for a man of courage and integrity to survive in this crossfire between enemies, and Hadji Murat ends up being killed and decapitated by the Russians, who are even more ruthless in their methods than their enemies are.

The second major theme is that the whole Russian imperialist adventure in the Caucasus is wrong and self-defeating. The Russians, though they rationalize their takeover of the region in the usual ways, are out to exploit the non-Russian peoples on their periphery. Tolstoy depicts the Czar Nicholas I as basically the opposite of Hadji Murat. The Czar is immoral, lazy, power-hungry and corrupt. Though individual Russians such as Vorontsov and Loris-Melikov are depicted positively, Tolstoy in general is siding with the Muslim inhabitants of the Caucasus in his story as a whole.

You might wish to compare this story with Tolstoy's earlier "The Cossacks," which takes place in the same general area and time and deals with many of the same themes. It's worthwhile to consider how and why Tolstoy's attitudes may have changed, or conversely, been intensified by the time he wrote the much later Hadji Murat.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 716

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 fleeing Chechen, who fire back and hit one of his men in the stomach. The victim is Avdeev, whom the reader saw the night before, smoking his pipe and chatting with his friends while keeping watch. A kindly...

(The entire section contains 1006 words.)

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