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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 366

"Ivan the Fool and His Two Brothers" is a fairy tale by Count Leo Tolstoy first published in 1886. According to Tolstoy translator Aylmer Maude, it presents Tolstoy's philosophical critique of militarism and commercialism. It was written when Tolstoy focused on simple, instructional tales intended for peasants and their children. This period occurred after his spiritual crisis between 1876 and 1879. Some critics frown on the didactic turn that Tolstoy’s writing took because, they say, his characterizations lacked motivational depth and his plots were strained and unrealistic. Yet other critics find Tolstoy's morally instructive stories replete with vitalizing realism in both character and plot. Because "Ivan the Fool" is a fairy tale, this criticism might more easily apply to it than to Tolstoy's greater works such as “Master and Man.”

Ivan is the story's protagonist; he is called a fool because he lacks keen intelligence and understanding of how the materialistic world works. Ivan has two brothers: the eldest has a military career, and the other is a merchant. Ivan stays home and runs the peasant farm. He takes care of his mother, father, and sister, who is dumb in that she lacks physiological vocal abilities. In the story, it is Ivan the fool who leads others to a life of happiness, and it is his "dumb" sister who can differentiate between the person of true value and the arrogant, false boaster. Together Ivan and his sister demonstrate Tolstoy's theme that simple living, open generosity, and manual labor represent how people ought to live. “Ivan the Fool” points out the unadmirable, destructive, and devious aspects of militarism and commercialism while idealizing the peasant life.

The first collection in which it appeared was The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories in 1890. After that, it appeared in the collections Twenty-Three Tales in 1905 and Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Other Tales published the following year. Tolstoy achieved his goal in the didactic fairy tale "Ivan the Fool." In it, he offers children instruction on how to live rightly in their circumstances, and he depicts peasants and peasant life with respect. Most importantly, Tolstoy's story turns the fool into a wise man and the dumb sister into the guardian of right living.

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