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Group Read Archive 2015 > Master and Man - - - - Leo Tolstoy

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message 1: by Amalie (new)

Amalie  | 650 comments Mod
This thread is for the discussions on "Master and Man" by Leo Tolstoy (5th reading of the "2011 Short Story Challenger.")

If you're reading for the first time or need to go through the text again, check out the following links for e-texts.
(Trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude)

All ten chapters will be discussed here. So new readers be aware of spoilers.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

So curious to know what others see in this story! I love the images Tolstoy paints so beautifully--the sledges being prepared for travel, the snow blowing over the paths, the horse and sledge moving through that white, blinding snowy landscape. But I felt the characters were not real enough. Nikita was portrayed as a peasant to be worshiped; Vasily, as a noble to be loathed. It felt like a propagandistic character depiction; very one dimensional. While the scene where Vasily "awakens" to the truth (a truth that the peasant supposedly already knows), and sacrifices himself for another, is moving, it struck me as very emotionally manipulative and perhaps too idealistic! I just sensed such judgmental resentment coming from Tostoy in regards to his treatment of those characters with any wealth; and such hero worship of those from the peasant class. What say other readers?!

message 3: by Silver (new)

Silver I have to say that I myself never found Vasili Andreevich to be that loathsome, while there were aspects of him that were certainly disagreeable, and the ending certainly does convey a rather clear message of what Tolstoy thought. But for me Vasili was more of buffoon, and there was a comic aspect to him, but he was not intentionally malicious. In his own misguided way he meant well. Though it was ultimately his own greed which had cost him his own life and it was only after it was too late that he began to regret his decision.

And Nikita was not exactly the picture of a saint though unlike Vasily who was blind to his own wrong doing and truly saw his actions as being charitable, Nkikita lived with the regret of his own sins.

But perhaps portraying Vasily as someone who I think was more pitiful than truly loathsome is in fact more contemptuous.

message 4: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 39 comments I found myself asking where the change in Vasily came from, and I think it was in finding himself alone and helpless. The sight of the wormwood blowing making him shiver, I thought reminded him of Nikita who he'd left behind. To me, I thought Vasily's fear of death at this point leveled the field in terms of class, and they were now both just human beings.

message 5: by Amalie (new)

Amalie  | 650 comments Mod
Christi wrote: "S I love the images Tolstoy paints so beautifully--the sledges being prepared for travel, the snow blowing over the paths, the horse and sledge movin..."

Yes. Reminded me of Robert Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Actually there's a resemblance on the themes as well but Vasily's enlightenment or the spiritual revelation comes too late for him compared to the narrator of the poem.

I liked Nikita but I agree with Silver, he is not a saint-like character, he had many weaknesses earlier but as a "servant" he is very loyal, too good to be true. Vasily is not a completely black character he did attempt later to save Nikita's life. I feel the character are well-depicted. There's a growth in them.

I also love Tolstoy bringing his famous themes in this one: moral values and true happiness through self-denial. It would be pretty dull to hear them from someone else other than him.

Did anyone else notice after leaving Nikita when Vasily tries to find the way through the forest the horse kept making towards the right and Vasili Andreevich kept guiding it to the left? The 'right' connoting righteousness. I always like peasant characters in Russian works. They are always better and a lot more interesting than the aristocrats.

message 6: by Silver (new)

Silver Amalie wrote: Did anyone else notice after leaving Nikita when Vasily tries to find the way through the forest the horse kept making towards the right and Vasili Andreevich kept guiding it to the left? The 'right' connoting righteousness...."

That is a good observation. I had not caught the significance of the direction, but I had wondered about the meaning of thier having kept getting lost or mislaid.

First they ended up in the wrong town and though they are told by the people in the town how easy it should be for them to find thier way if they just follow the road, and they are given directions. I think one person even tells them that even a child could have found his own way.

Yet they are not able to do so. And the first time they send up straying from their path it is the horse whom leads them back to the town again. As if the horse is the one trying to guide Vasily to take the right path in life. He is given another chance to accept the hospitality offered to them and stay where it is warm and safe, but he still refuses in spite of the danger, becasue of his greed and worried that if he delays than he will miss out on his business opportunity, and so again they end up straying from the road and than Vasily keeps getting lost when he tries to leave Nikita.

Elizabeth (Alaska) Vasily thought material gain to be of supreme importance while Nikita recognized the importance of the Chief Master. Vasiley came to the same understanding late, and probably saved him for the hereafter, but not for this life. Nikita had his faults and so only lost a few toes in the experience, was left to live another 20 years.

This was my first experience with Tolstoy and it won't be my last. While I'm not going to buy the message, which I didn't feel hit over the head while getting, the prose was extraordinary, the descriptions so real I almost could feel the cold, and the characters clearly drawn.

toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) I read this last night. I Really enjoyed this and found that images from the book haunted me all day. I agree with @Elizabeth (alaska) that the prose was extraordinary. Didn't buy the message. But, this work confirmed Tolstoy as my favourite writer,

message 9: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 39 comments Yes, I think Tolstoy is quickly becoming my favorite as well.

message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris | 32 comments I liked this story too. The descriptions were impeccable and I like how he switched POVs back and forth between Nikita and Vasily. I was also very impressed with the character growth Tolstoy managed to work into a short story without it feeling too contrived or rushed, although Vasily's was predictable. I was also surprised how much emotion I felt when reading this. I got pissed off when Vasily left Nikita but then sad when he died protecting him. I also wish the horse could have made it. They kept saying how he was such a good horse.
I don't quite have it completely worked out yet but I see a kind of parallel between the master and man in this story and Russia and her people to Tolstoy. Russians, especially in this era, went through a whole lot of abuse in their home country but most Russians still have a strong love for their motherland. I feel this is something like how Nikita feels.

message 11: by Bera (new)

Bera | 7 comments I have always loved this story. I think Tolstoy like Dostoevski believed that only death and suffering bring life into true perspective. For some, this happens early in life, for others, not until death is almost upon them. Vasilly, like most of us, was preoccupied with things that death suddenly shows us are transient and trivial. Those things (in his case, business and financial gain) were his master. I think Elizabeth has it right when she identifies recogntion of the true "Chief Master" as she puts it, as the main point. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God," Jesus said. Vasily finally reached the point where he became poor in spirit, and then, suddenly, as if a veil were lifted from his eyes, saw things in their true light. But I don't think Tolstoy meant us to see Vasily's death in a sorrowful way. Notice how Vasily is actually extremely happy as he leaves this life and enters another. But if one's basic assumptions about the nature of existence exclude such possibilities, then Tolstoy's "message" will be unacceptable, and I will have to find the main value of the story in other aspects. But to me, it is all one grand and indivisible fabric.

message 12: by Bera (new)

Bera | 7 comments Sorry, but just thought of something else; "Master and Man" may not be the best translation. In Russian, the word translated as "man" is "rabotnik," which is more often used to mean "worker," "servant" or "slave," I believe. In the context of the story, "Master and Slave" would seem to be the right rendering. This adds irony to the story, I think, for it raises the question of who is truly the master of whom?

message 13: by Shintaro (new)

Shintaro | 1 comments Thanks for this informative article! I will look forward to this for future references! Help us promote our website and avail

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