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What does the author seem to value?

Tolstoy’s stories are deceptively simple at first glance, probably because of his use of simple language, commonplace characters, ordinary events, and a straightforward down to earth style. However, at second glance we realize that his works are all a deep study of human nature, which can hardly be termed simplistic. What makes his work more interesting is that he does not patronize or hammer home the moral but provokes the reader to think. Tolstoy wrote After the Ball in 1903, at the age of seventy-five, and by this time, he felt that it was his responsibility as a writer to persuade his reader over to his point of view.

After the Ball on the surface seems to be about love, but at a closer look, we realize that though love is a theme, the story also mirrors Tolstoy’s distrust of the state, his revulsion for the decrepit Russian society of the day, and his horror at corporal punishment. The title of the story is After the Ball, but it is actually divided into two parts. The first part that narrates the ball is longer, and it highlights the aristocracy, in all their splendour, so that we can see it in sharp contrast to the second part of the story, which actually narrates what happened ‘after the ball’.

In After the Ball, the middle aged Ivan Vasilievich, recalls his youthful romance with remarkable freshness, and talks of the time when he hopelessly idealized the beautiful Varinka remembering how she “was exquisite – tall, slender, graceful, and stately… [and] carried her head high”, and reflecting that both “her beauty and [her] height gave her a queenly air”. Ivan also praised the host who was the “provincial marshal” mentioning that he was “a good-natured old man, rich and hospitable, and a court chamberlain”.

The hostess is also vividly recalled for her grandeur, reminding us of the “the daughter of Peter the Great” and Tolstoy leaves us in no doubt that we are supposed to compare her to the Empress by making her in part “like the portraits of Empress Elizabeth”. Tolstoy also wanted to include the entire nobility and hence we see Varinka’s”very handsome, well-preserved” father recall to our minds the Russian Tsar, since his “moustaches curled in the style of Nicolas I “. This story was written in 1903; just two years prior to the Revolution of 1905, and thus the ball echoes the contemporary court life of the era.

The entire evocation of the etiquettes of the ball, its grandeur and the beauty of its participants are all egging us on to what is the main theme of the story. Tolstoy juxtaposes the world of the ball with the world of dark human realities, so that we can see and decide for ourselves just how cultured the Russian nobility actually is. The sight of Varinka and her father dancing together unites them in Ivan’s mind. Perhaps that already hints at what is to come since the display of such cruelty from Varinka’s father puts him off Varinka completely.

I feel that the author cannot bring himself to accept such discrepancy in a person from such light heartedness to such cruelty as he observed in the Colonel. Here we see the importance of Russian idealism and its value for Tolstoy reflected in Ivan. It is the value Tolstoy places on socialism that makes Ivan reject even Varinka in part! The story also reflects on the value of convention. According to Alexander Zholkovsky, at the ball the manner in which the protagonist and the object of his affection behave is completely governed by convention and “Everything [was] be done according to rule”.

Tolstoy, ingeniously demonstrates how shallow the whole approach of such “rule[s]” is, by making Ivan focus not only on the affection between the father and the daughter, but also on the Colonel’s “not fashionable boots, but … home-made ones”. By being rewarded by Varinka with her “little feather out of her fan … and one of her gloves” Ivan’s status as a courtly lover is cemented. Of course, we do have to admit that one of the values that Tolstoy expresses in the story is that of love. Ivan is hopelessly, madly and dizzily in love with Varinka.

According to Alexander Zholkovsky, the excessive love that Ivan feels for Varinka is his “Hubris” or flaw. It is because of the extreme love that he felt for her that he felt his heart expand to unite her and her father alike. His love for her causes him to “set free the whole force of loving within [him, and he]… loved the hostess …and her husband and her guests and her footmen, and even the engineer Anisimov”. He loved the colonel and “felt a sort of tenderness for him that was almost rapture”.

This is what makes him respect the Colonel for ‘his home-made boots’. It is his love for Varinka that makes him pity his brother “for his ignorance of the bliss“he experienced. Again the feeling of love so realistically captured by Tolstoy, shows Ivan in a very benign state of mind that even the “serf Petrusha” with his “sleepy face and tousled hair seemed to [him] so touching”. Infact, Tolstoy portrays Ivan as having “unearthly love” for Varinka which was inversely proportional to how “corporeal was she in [his] eyes”.

Ivan does not even want to know if his love is returned, for him “It was quite enough to know that [he] loved her. ” It is precisely this adulation that leads to Ivan’s “love [coming] to naught”. He is guilty of placing Varinka on a pedestal from which she falls “into a pit of ink” . Tolstoy seems to have an innate understanding of human nature and its follies and this is shown in the way he has presented the love of Ivan. It is obvious that though the platonic and heavenly love that Ivan has for Varinka was the convention of the day, Tolstoy does not subscribe to it.

In a very tongue in cheek manner does Tolstoy subvert the convention of heavenly platonic love, since it is that very misplaced and overflowing affection that does not allow Ivan to sleep. Thus, the very love Ivan wanted to walk around and feel alive to, was destroyed by his stroll. In the second half of the story, we see Tolstoy’s value of Idealism being highlighted. It is ironic that Ivan statement “I had only one fear – that something might come to interfere with my great joy” actually foreshadows the sinister mood of the second part of the story.

As we move on to the part of the story that is actually “After the ball” the story undergoes a reversal. The “white dress…white shoes, and white kid gloves” are strongly contrasted by “many black objects through the mist… dirty coat(s)… black uniforms”, the “mazurka” of the Ball is replaced by “very harsh music” and the “robes of bronze” are replaced by the man’s naked “so many coloured, wet, red, unnatural, that I could hardly believe it was a human body”.

Ivan sees the sophisticated Colonel bring down his “strong hand in the suede glove [and strike] the weak, bloodless, terrified soldier for not bringing down his stick with sufficient strength on the red neck of the Tartar”, and Ivan realizes that even looking at the Colonel made him feel as though he “had been detected in a disgraceful act”. Here again, having set the dark mood, and having shown his distaste to the discerning reader, for the manner in which the aristocratic Colonel behaved, Tolstoy again tries to throw his simple readers off.

He does so by having the protagonist exclaim, “Evidently he knows something I do not know”, as though that would justify him. To ensure that the simple reader does not take Ivan at face value, Tolstoy makes sure that Ivan distances himself and sets himself apart from the Colonel by remarking that no matter how much he tried to justify the Colonel, he “ could not understand the thing that the colonel knew”, that would justify he Colonel’s deed.

Tolstoy again shows his distrust of the state, by having Ivan narrate how the incident did not prod him to make moral judgements, but the savagery displayed by the cruel Colonel made him avoid signing up for any service for the state “military service…[or] Civil Service”. The story also contrasts the importance of the theory of “the environment swamp[ing] the man” verses “chances aris[ing] and … alter[ing] and direct[ing] a man’s whole life” as was the view held by the protagonist. Tolstoy ingeniously reminds the reader of the background, by having Ivan compare the hostess of the ball to “Empress Elizabeth”, and the Colonel to “Nicholas I”.

Tolstoy subverts what Ivan is saying by reminding us in his own cunning manner that the Tsar created a system where such brutality was not only permitted, but also the norm. Conclusion: The story reflects on the values of idealism over selfishness or autocracy of a single person, on the values of love and of courtship and the importance of the sincerity rather than convention. It also shows Tolstoy’s thoughts with regard to corporal punishment as Ivan mentions that his “heart was full of physical disgust that was almost sickness”.

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