Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


Study Questions for

Leo Tolstoy's A Confession

(written 1879 & 1882)

You should read this book through in its entirety first, and then only later formulate answers to these study questions.
  1. On p 19 Tolstoy refers to a "faith in knowledge, poetry and the evolution of life." Try to describe, in your own words, what that faith is.

  2. On p 22-23 Tolstoy refers to a faith in progress. Try to describe, in your own words, what that faith is.

  3. On p 26 Tolstoy refers to a new faith: faith in the family. What is that faith, in your own words?

  4. The big question that Tolstoy is addressing in his life is expressed on pp 34-35 (and again on p 58). In your own words, what is that question?

  5. There are two fields of knowledge, Tolstoy says on p 35. What do these two fields of knowledge say about the life question Tolstoy is raising here?

  6. Tolstoy summarizes Schopenhauer's philosophy on pp 43-44 (and again on p 48). a.) What is that summary saying? b.) Do you think it is an accurate summary of Schopenhauer, as you understand him?

  7. Tolstoy summarizes the teachings of Solomon, as expressed in the Book of Ecclesiastes, on pp 44-46 (and again on p 48). What does he say Ecclesiastes teaches?

  8. Tolstoy summarizes the teachings of the Buddha on pp 47-48. What are the Buddha's teachings, according to Tolstoy?

  9. Tolstoy says he finds four ways that people he knows have dealt with this big life question (pp 49-51). What are those four ways?

  10. What is the contradiction, at the bottom of p 52, which Tolstoy sees?

  11. Summarize the meaning of the last four lines in the top paragraph on p 57.

  12. In the middle paragraph on p 58 Tolstoy sees a mistake in his thinking. Summarize what that mistake is.

  13. Explain what Tolstoy is trying to express from the middle of p 59 to the middle of p 60.

  14. Near the middle of p 60 Tolstoy seems to offer some preliminary answers to his central question. What are those answers?

  15. Near the top of p 70 Tolstoy seems to offer another preliminary answer to his main question. a.) What is that answer? b.) Is it consistent with what he said on p 60?

  16. In the first paragraph on p 63 Tolstoy offers an image of a watchspring that explains what he has been saying for the previous 3-4 pages. How would you explain the meaning of that image?

  17. In the last two paragraphs in section XI (on pp 70-71) Tolstoy is making a very important point. How would you say what that point is?

  18. At the top of p 72 Tolstoy uses the words "dread" and "forlornness." Do you think he is using them in the same sense that Sartre did?

  19. In the last two paragraphs in section XII (on pp 75-76) Tolstoy describes an image of being in a boat and rowing across a river. What exactly does this image describe about his life?

  20. Tolstoy often refers to "those of us who are parasites," (e.g., on p 77). Who is he referring to and why does he call them parasites?

  21. In the top 1/3 of pp 77 Tolstoy seems to offer another preliminary answer to the question. a.) What is that answer? b.) Is it consistent with the others he has given? (cf. Questions 14 & 15)

  22. Please explain what you think Leo is saying on p 78, lines 21-31.

  23. In Tolstoy's dream, toward the top of p 93, a voice says: "Mark this, this is it!" What exactly do think the voice is telling Tolstoy to pay special attention to?

  24. The last line in the dream (and in the book) tells Tolstoy: "See that you remember." What exactly do you think he is to remember?

  25. Is there anything about Tolstoy's struggle, expressed in these pages, which speaks to your own personal life issues? Please explain briefly.