HomeLiterature Study GuidesWar And PeaceEpilogue Part 1 Chapters 1 4 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Epilogue, Part 1, Chapters 1–4 | Summary

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Summary

The epilogue starts seven years after the war of 1812. The first four chapters are an extended essay on some of the ideas about history that have already been covered: the role of prominent figures in shaping history is highly exaggerated, and the final purpose of history is not accessible to human beings. Tolstoy challenges the "great man" theory, in which history can be understood in the light of how great men shaped what happened. With regard to the meaning of history, the author uses the example of Alexander to say that what people currently blame or praise him for today might be entirely different from the view of people in a different time. Tolstoy also adds the idea that the more human beings know about the mundane purpose of things, the more inaccessible to them is "the final purpose." For example, it is not possible to ultimately understand how Napoleon, "a man without convictions, without customs, without traditions, without a name, not even a Frenchman," was able to rise to prominence or why he continues to be esteemed.

Analysis

These four chapters that begin the epilogue can be seen as a preview of the final essay at the end of the novel. Tolstoy is preparing the reader by recapping a few of his major ideas: first, individual figures do not shape history; that is just a story that people tell to make sense of things that have happened. Second, the meaning of history changes according to time and place. Third, it is not possible for human beings to know the final purpose of history—and Tolstoy is implying that this is the province of God.

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