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Use of metaphors in From War and Peace by Tolstoy

Useof metaphors in From War and Peace by Tolstoy


The1869 epic novel Warand Peaceis considered among the greatest works of Leo Tolstoy, a Russian. Thenovel revolves around the way in which French invades Russia, theeffect of Napoleon rule on the Tsarist society. In efforts for theauthor to put across, his story line touches on five Russian familieswhich he displays as being aristocratic. Although Tolstoy usesvarious literature devices in his novel, this essay focuses on themanner in which he represents metaphors in a mathematical way.

Inthe novel, Tolstoy employs mathematical in an impeccable way todisplay his comprehension of history and show why it is irrational toallow leaders of armies and economies to direct nations through theirpolicies he does not consider as being sensible. The metaphors arenot simple mathematics references employed in literature, but areconsidered as being deep and rich hence require some mathematicsknowledge for one to comprehend their meaning. They play the normalfunction of enabling readers to clearly understand the author’stheory. Thus in this case the author employs mathematical metaphorsto enable readers to understand his historical theory, with specialreference to integral calculus and usage of discrete in place ofcontinuous.

Oneof the metaphors is the use of discrete in place of continuoushowever, the flaws in history are explained and them the manner inwhich mathematics are integrated in the metaphor is elaborated.Tolstoy presents the manner in which the major problem is inabilityfor historians to understand history hence making them to havemisconceptions, and historians’ incapability to the complex natureof history in making efforts to employ discrete in place ofcontinuous, and their inability to understand continuity. This isindicated in his novel where he indicates “Absolute continuity ofmotion is not comprehensible to the human mind. … Human error comesfrom the arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous[discrete] element (Tolstoy, 1966, p. 917). He uses the tortoise andAchilles to elaborate that motion is non-existent. Thus he explainsabout his division of motion in discrete elements whereas motion iscontinuous. He thus requires historians to understand concept ofinfinitely small through the geometric series through tortoise andAchilles story in explaining that history is also continuoushappening noted when he says “The movement of humanity, arising asit does from innumerable arbitrary human wills, is continuous. Tounderstand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim ofhistory” (Tolstoy, 1966, p. 918).

He,in an impeccable manner to explain how the historians have made amistake as the case of ancient in the narrative of Achilles and thetortoise by estimating continuous by discrete. The historians’first greatest mistake is selecting a series of events, even thoughevents can never have a beginning or an ending. Thus the series ifevents from an historical perspective are claimed to represent thewhole history, which is not the case. The second mistake is abilityof Tolstoy to refute the historians that the action of an individualcan be equated with sum of many individual actions, like the case ofNapoleon. These mistakes deny people from knowing the truth becausethe historians approximately have one recorded very little of whatconstitutes history.

Thehistorians’ failure and ancients’ failure to realize the truth inthe tortoise and Achilles to recognize the human movement as beingcontinuous through incorporating mathematics resulted to their errorsthat denied them from knowing the truth. The ability for modernmathematics to realize that indefinite small solutions can eventuallysolve a large problem is a major limitation of the many historians. However, it is apparent that the ancients and historians did not havethe concept of modern mathematics that agrees with absolutecontinuity in motion that has the potential to correct the inevitableerror that individuals cannot detect when addressing two elements onmotion. It is through comprehending the infinitesimally of the littleand small objects being scrutinized can one achieve the truthful lawsof history.

Tolstoyargues that it is through the integration of the will of people thatthe true history laws can be developed. However, he does not givesolution to how integration can be achieved but uses the metaphor themanner in which history is complex and how the infinitesimalcharacteristic affects its course. He goes on further to elaboratehis metaphor in the second epilogue when he claims “Only byreducing this element of free will to the infinitesimal, that is, byregarding it as an infinitely small quantity, can we convinceourselves of the absolute inaccessibility of the causes, and theninstead of seeking causes, history will take the discovery of laws asits problem” (Tolstoy, 1966, 9. 1349). This means that historianscontinue to fault history because they use individual and discreteincidences to explain the flow of history. Therefore, this problem ofusing infinite number in determined the cause of history can only beachieved through setting laws to govern history.


Tolstoy,L. (1996). Warand Peace (trans. L. and A. Maude), G. Gibian, ed.,New York: W. W. Norton.