An internal revolution

How does revolution begin? When will revolution occur? These questions are discussed in Leo Tolstoy’s last book, Resurrection.

Unlike Tolstoy’s more well-read works, Resurrection does not define the road to happiness, justice or death. Rather, this work answers the question of why progress must be made. He details the immense suffering and the glaring hypocrisy of his time. This leads the reader, and the protagonist of the work, Prince Nekhlyudov, to believe that improvement and dramatic change are necessary and eventually undeniable.

His work begins with the trial of Katusha Maslova, a woman who, though innocent, is sentenced for murder. This woman is also the victim of many crimes, the first of which is committed by Nekhlyudov, who now stands in judgement over her as a member of her jury. The injustice of pre-Revolutionary Russia is clear to the reader from the very beginning. However, throughout the story we find that there are real reasons, as well as practical means, to fight for justice.

As a member of her jury, Nekhlyudov realizes the depth of his own crime against Maslova. He strives to give up his position, his income and his comfortable life in order to undo the damage he has done.

But his sacrifices, he finds, are meaningless – he is merely trying to appease his own guilt. The mistakes and crimes of the past are too great to be forgiven. Only his future actions matter. In what path will he walk for the rest of his life? He who was born so rich, became so educated and has lived so well must now decide why he deserves to live at all.

Maslova, too, is not completely innocent. She has wronged herself, allowing herself to be used, passed around and thrown away. The temptations of her past fast life, at times, call to her. But it is in prison that she first tastes freedom – freedom from the need to please, freedom from sentiments of malaise, freedom from hatred and freedom from outside stimulants. She learns to be happy, to love her companions and to serve a good much larger than herself.

Although the revolutions of their characters mirror each other, the similarities are merely incidental. It is simply a fortunate coincidence that they are able to help each other. Maslova’s incarceration compels Nekhlyudov to see the suffering that his own uselessness causes, creating both wealth and poverty. Nekhlyudov’s interference forces Maslova to find the only cure for her unhappiness, which is created by her selfish denial of her need for others.

In the end, the reader realizes, as do the main characters, that hypocrisy is the most harmful luxury and that neither happiness nor comfort are the proper aims of life. Life must be lived fully to the service of the highest good. This internal revolution seems to be the hardest of them all. The revolution is inevitable whenever people make that leap of faith.

The author can be reached at brandikishner@yahoo.com