Leo Tolstoy’s Ironic Yet Inspiring Master and Man In Leo Tolstoy’s short story, Master and Man, Tolstoy makes effective use of dramatic irony. Irony, as defined by the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, is “…a situation in which there is an incongruity between what is expected and what occurs. 1” A well-known example of situational irony is found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two lovers end up killing themselves for one another in hasty passion. When in reality, if they had waited and discovered all the facts, they might have survived.
Even though Shakespeare informs the audience this play will end tragically, the audience cannot help but think the love story will have a happy ending. The events in Tolstoy’s work also contradict what is anticipated by the reader. When the reader learns Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov is a leader in the church, a man with honesty and virtue comes to mind. Ironically, Vasili adds 2300 rubles of money that he has been keeping for the church to the sum he needs to pay for the grove.
Vasili also neglects to pay Nikita all the wages he has earned2. This is not something expected of a leader in the church. Religious leaders are meant to be model citizens and honest people. By any standards, taking money from the church to use for personal gain and cheating money out of laborers is dishonest and morally wrong. Another example of Tolstoy’s use of irony appears after Nikita and Vasili decide they must weather the storm and settle down for the night.
Vasili comes to the realization that he will actually have to stay in the sledge all night and he becomes afraid of dying and losing everything he worked for3. Normally, someone of his social status and economic prowess would be proud to leave all of that to his heir and depart this world an accomplished man. Nikita on the other hand, has no notable accomplishments. He is poor, a recovering alcoholic, and his wife is living with another man4. Yet Nikita is at peace with his impending death. He is tired of the toils of life and longs to be free of them.
He welcomes the thought of death and of being with his “Chief Master,” who is assumed to be God5. This is a strange situation because it would be more natural for Nikita to dread death because he has not made something of his life like Vasili has. Something still more ironic and interesting about Vasili and Nikita are their spiritual states. Nikita seems much more in touch with his spiritual side. As mentioned before, he speaks of God as his “Chief Master” and knows he will not be abandoned by Him.
Tolstoy wrote Nikita was even comforted by the thought of Him hearing his prayers for help6. Nikita’s faith is surprising because he could easily blame his troubles with Vasili and his wife on God, but He doesn’t. These sentiments appear much more personal, simple, and heartfelt compared to those cries Vasili Andreevich makes to Holy Father Nicholas, which give the impression that Vasili only pleaded to Saint Nicholas because he recalled him from the church service from the day before, and he soon gives up7.
It would make more sense if Vasili possessed a greater sense of faith, because he is a leader in the church, but he is preoccupied with selling religious icons and mulling over financial and business matters. Although after Vasili does the right thing and returns for Nikita, he has a dream-like experience of being called by a “someone” that could possibly be God calling him to his kingdom8, 9. This is heartwarming in the sense that we discover Vasili has found something worthwhile to cling to, in the place of his earthly treasures.