Social Insecurity

Day 55 of A Year of War and Peace

Gatsby’s green light, that covetous fluorescence, shines brightly through time. It may not be perceptible to the naked eye, but its destabilizing glow is felt on the road to Olmütz in today’s chapter.

Boris is the first to feel it. He rides to Olmütz in search of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky with the desire to become an adjutant to some important person. It does not matter who. All that matters is that he advance in his military career. He simply cannot endure the social inferiority, and the concomitant anguish, of his current rank. Comparing himself to others, he finds himself wanting.

The same can be said of the old general who enters the chapter along with Prince Andrei. Prince Andrei, seeing Boris waiting for him, interrupts his conversation with the old general and makes straight for Boris. This provokes a look of silent contempt from the old general.

And, then, just as the youthful Boris triumphs over the old general, the youth party of the war council triumphs over their elders in securing orders for an immediate attack on Napoleon. The elders want to play a wait-and-see approach. But the youth win the day. There’ll be an attack. We’re not offered any insight into the minds of the vanquished elders here but we do see that Dolgorukov, a representative of the youth faction, is fairly gleeful over their victory. It may be safe to surmise that his opponents in the war council feel the opposite.

All around us today, born (back ceaselessly into the past) of stark social inequality, glimmers the dim gleam of Gatsby’s envious green light.


There is a lot of frustration and angst in today’s chapter. All of it is the result of characters comparing themselves unfavorably to others. This is a dangerous and, unfortunately, all-too-common practice. It breeds jealousy and insecurity. Better for us, then, to turn away from the green light.

H0w much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure.
Marcus, The Meditations

This is the fifty-fifth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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