Plot, Themes, and Ideas of Leo Tolstoy’s “Confession”

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Tolstoy was prompted to write a work on the meaning of life by a spiritual crisis caused by a sense of disillusionment that appeared towards the end of his life. This feeling becomes the subject of reflection in Tolstoy’s first religious-philosophical treatise. His individual problem – the disgust at the meaninglessness of existence in the face of death – is an eternal problem, existing at all times. Therefore, as a thinker and a philosopher, he cannot help but speculate about the meaning of life, especially since his views have changed. The crisis that consumed him, in my opinion, is something so common in people who have been through a lot. It is not surprising to become disillusioned with one’s former beliefs about the meaning of life (Klemke & Cahn, 2017). In contrast to his former ideas about death, he concludes that for a man who has learned the true meaning of life in the service of moral ideals, death no longer exists.

The oriental legend of the traveler influenced the conception of Tolstoy’s Confessions and was the semantic and artistic core of the first half of the text. The writer’s parable of the wayfarer is not simply a parable about human life. This is a story about the frailty of all that exists in the world, that reality being a huge stream where one wave replaces another. Tolstoy conveyed to the reader the depth of his despair, which, however, gave a powerful impetus to the search for a way out, using the imagery of the ancient parable.

Having gone through the study of Christianity, Buddhism, and other religious teachings in search of faith, Tolstoy turned to the common people’s faith, which consisted of living by toiling and humbling themselves. In the course of his acquaintance with the life of these people, the writer returns to the foundations of Christianity, distorted by the Church, to the original primitive faith, to the natural man. Tolstoy regains his faith in God, which had previously been shaken, which eases his anguish as he attempts to resolve his existential crisis.


Klemke, E. D., & Cahn, S. M. (2017). The meaning of life. Oxford Press.