Why Ink Needs Paper: Sonya in War and Peace
In the novel war and peace by Leo Tolstoy the most important character is drowned out by the focus on the others. Sonya plays a key role in understanding the novel and the other characters. In a book which mostly always follows wealthy and high class oligarchs and Characters with little to no regard for others Sonya serves as the contrast to these people. In a diagram of something Sonya would be the object setting it to scale not particularly interesting but without her everything else is less clear and meaningful. She is the rainy day so that you know a sunny day is a good one, vitally important yet tragically forgotten. Sonya’s servitude to the Rostovs is often looked upon blindly with nobody paying her much attention at all. Her character in the story is as easy to forget for the reader as it is the characters. Sonya devotes her life to the Rostov family living with them as their ward and gives up her childhood love Nicholas because she knows that him marrying a rich and powerful woman will benefit his family. Sonya’s good nature and lack of an edge or anything to make her stand out is perfect for the contrast to be made between Sonya and the other characters in the book but particularly Natasha. Sonya could be described as a white canvas for the other characters to be held up against allowing the reader more insight and to see other characters in greater detail but this leaves her often forgotten. Tolstoy devotes a lot of the novel to describe Natasha and Nicholas it is with them that the contrast to Sonya is the most clear.
But perhaps the most important thing that Sonya does in the novel is the statement she makes about the society in the novel but also the world as a whole. She gave everything she has to others and was left with nothing so now she is treated as if she is below others. She adds a depth to the novel which makes Tolstoy’s intentions with the other characters in the novel more obvious.
Sonya and Natasha were best friends from the beginning of the novel which allowed for many situations where the two were met with a very similar situation to amplify the contrasts in the two of them and observe their different approaches. This wasn’t truly for Sonya because her character did not matter we already expected that she would do the morally upstanding thing but rather was to focus on Natasha who wasn’t as obvious. It seems that even in the context of her being a character in a novel Sonya was still overlooked to serve the Rostovs. An example of a similar situation Sonya and Natasha were met with came in the first few chapters of the novel where both Sonya and Natasha are in love with two different men. Sonya loves Nicholas Natasha’s brother and her own cousin and Natasha is in love with Boris a friend of Nicholas that is lower class. The parallels of the situations continue as both men are heading off to war with Nicholas promising to marry Sonya when he returns and Boris saying the same to Natasha. The two characters diverge when after the men have left for war Sonya never stops loving and thinking about Nicholas she stays committed to him even though she knows that they could never really be together. While in contrast to this Natasha doesn’t seem very devastated by the leaving of Boris and quickly moves on. Each of the woman are given options of other suitors and while Sonya refuses everyone due to her unwavering love for Nicholas Natasha allows herself to be courted by many men throughout the novel moving on from Boris very quickly which leads the reader to realize Natasha did not love Boris like Sonya loves Nicholas and find Natasha ingeniune and therefore untrustworthy.
Later on in the book Natasha is to married to Prince andrew however he must leave her for a year. In tandem with this is the absence of Nicholas for a little over a year once again allowing the contrasts in the qualities of Natasha and Sonya to be apparent. Not long after Andrew left Natasha she starts to feel saddened and the impression is given that the reason for this is not because her love for Andrew is genuine and she misses him but rather she’s upset because there is nobody around to dote on her. This leads way to Anatole’s appearance when Natasha meets him at the Opera. Anatole is searching for a suitable wife and gives Natasha plenty of attention which she can not resist. Similarly Dolokhov a friend of Nicholas was making frequent visits to the Rostovs and it became apparent that his reason was to see Sonya and even more similarly to the situation that Natasha was in Dolokhov paid Sonya as much attention as he could “He was pointedly attentive to Sonya and looked at her in such a way that not only could she not bear his glances without coloring, but even the old countess and Natasha blushed when they saw his looks” (356). Yet again in the exact situation and again Sonya and Natasha choose very different options. Sonya chooses to never lead Dolokhov on due to her undying affections for Nicholas even though she knows they could never marry. Natasha, in love not with Anatole but the attention he is giving her decides to run away with him only to be stopped begrudgingly by Sonya who risks their friendship trying to stop her inciting the anger of Natasha onto herself because she knows its what is best for Natasha who is still too naive to understand. Dolokhov proposed to Sonya who promptly declined and just a few days after this happening Dolokhov invites Nicholas to play a game of cards. During the game Dolokhov wins 43,000 rubles from Nicholas causing Nicholas to realize that Dolokhov never intended to have a friendly game but rather was angry at Nicholas because Sonya would not love him and had the intent on taking his money. This leads to the understanding of the different ways people are hurt by others. In the example of Nicholas Dolokhov was ill intending wanting to hurt Nicholas because he was angry. In the example of Natasha she was duped by men who weren’t trying to hurt her but did not hold concern for her over themselves as running away with Anatole would have ruined her life.
The way that Sonya is hurt by people is that she only thinks about others and chooses her actions doing so such as persuading Natasha not to run away and turning down eligible suitors to stay true to a man she could never marry. While never fully gaining recognition from the other Characters in the book Sonya’s presence is not large however her absence would be. If the story did not have Sonya we would never understand more key characters such as Natasha but perhaps even more importantly we would not have gained the insight into the society that she lives that tears down a girl who wants nothing but for others to be happy and was loyal to a degree which squandered opportunity for herself. The imperfect Characters may be found more interesting and be given more attention in the book itself but they never could have been of interest without Sonya’s good to contrast them with. If black ink was written on black paper then nobody could ever read it and that is the importance of Sonya in Tolstoy’s War and Peace to serve as the white sheet of paper which alone would be boring and meaningless but brings meaning to ink.
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