Friday, 6 June 2014

"Master and man" (Tolstoy)

"Master and man" shares with "The death of Ivan Ilyich" the same themes of approaching death and the meaning of life. A story set out to teach might very easily fail and become false, contrived, but like "The death of Ivan Ilyich", it doesn't. 
The story's deeply touching. 
Tolstoy raises an important question: what, after all, truly matters in life? I do have pleasures, and desires, and sometimes or most of the time can be a rather frivolous, fun-loving person, but, silly as it sounds, "Master and man" makes me think of those moments when I like something very much and want to buy it, then after holding it in my hands for about 5-10 minutes I don't want it any more, as though somehow some Buddhist thinking creeps in, reminds me that everything is transient and this thing is not needed. In fact, if you think about it, very few things are truly important and necessary. I don't mean that one should live a strictly simple life, let go of dreams and ambitions and be content, nor that it is wrong to strive to be famous and/or rich. What I'm thinking of is, rather, the people who have the wrong balance, prioritising false values above all else, throwing away more meaningful things, including people who accumulate wealth and like having money in their accounts but hardly ever use it, either for themselves or for others, as though forgetting that they can never bring money with themselves when they die. 
"Master and man" also makes me think of the NT lawsuit in VN, which has been going on for years. I'm baffled by that woman's greed- it's only because of the injustice and flexibility of the law in VN that she has got so much of what does not belong to her, yet she still isn't satisfied. When will it be enough?
Anyhow, these are merely fragmentary thoughts. I cannot go on without sounding phony and pretentious (actually I'm afraid that I already do), and at the same time I might give the wrong impression that "Master and man" is a parable with little literary merit, which isn't true. Will write more if I can organise my thoughts.

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