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.
- 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
- On p 22-23 Tolstoy refers to a faith in progress. Try to describe,
in your own words, what that faith is.
- On p 26 Tolstoy refers to a new faith: faith in the family. What is
that faith, in your own words?
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- Tolstoy summarizes the teachings of the Buddha on pp 47-48. What are
the Buddha's teachings, according to Tolstoy?
- 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?
- What is the contradiction, at the bottom of p 52, which Tolstoy sees?
- Summarize the meaning of the last four lines in the top paragraph
on p 57.
- In the middle paragraph on p 58 Tolstoy sees a mistake in his thinking.
Summarize what that mistake is.
- Explain what Tolstoy is trying to express from the middle of p 59
to the middle of p 60.
- Near the middle of p 60 Tolstoy seems to offer some preliminary answers
to his central question. What are those answers?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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)
- Please explain what you think Leo is saying on p 78, lines 21-31.
- 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?
- 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?
- Is there anything about Tolstoy's struggle, expressed in these pages,
which speaks to your own personal life issues? Please explain briefly.
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