I wrote this on September 19, 2005:
I have just read another fascinating part in Resurrection [by Leo Tolstoy]. The prisoners are being marched to Siberia. Nekhlyudov [the main character, a young, wealthy man] observes a family stopped at an intersection and forced to wait until the prisoners have passed by. The little girl who doesn’t understand what this procession means looks at her parents’ faces. She interpretes that these people are different from herself and her parents, and is relieved when they are gone so she can return to her own world. Her brother, on the other hand, “knew firmly and beyond any doubt, having learned it directly from God, that they were just such people as he himself and all other people were, and that, consequently, something very bad had been done to them.”
It’s interesting how Tolstoy is trying to convey the impact of this particular instituiton on society through many different characters. The previous chapters were about Nekhlyudov’s interactions with society people after his change of heart. He met the young, beautiful wife of some government official and nearly fell for her flirtation. She pretended to understand his motives and thoughts on social reform, but she only wanted to make him fall in love with her.
Then he had an argument with his brother-in-law because he said that the courts don’t stand for justice but to maintain the social order. Nekhlyudov has been stripped of the ideals that society fed him to protect its interests.
It makes sense to me that any society would be established by the powerful to make sure power is not taken from them or their children. Nekhlyudov is an oddball because the social order did not harm him, so why is he so interested in changing it? Well, his privileges seemed not to harm him, but obviously he feels that his wealthy lifestyle is not the way to exist because he has renounced it.
The family is fascinating. The little girl will most likely never be convinced of what her brother knew immediately. She will always think of convicts as a foreign class.