A Talk Among Leisured People by Leo Tolstoy
In A Talk Among Leisured People by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of dissatisfaction, desire, change, honesty, ideals and suffering. Taken from his Walk in the Light collection the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of dissatisfaction. None of those in attendance are happy with how their lives are going. They know they live an ungodly life and have a desire to change. However as the story progresses this desire does not manifest itself into a want. With family members of the boy, the husband and the old man all suggesting that those concerned should carry living their lives as they are. That is not appropriate for them to change. This is interesting as nobody it would appear has more than a mere desire to change. Though some critics might suggest this in itself is honourable some readers might think that those family members concerned are making excuses for their sons, husbands and grandfathers.
None of the characters in the story appear to want to change nor do they see how desperate the need for change is. When it comes to the boy, his father tells him to wait till he is older. When it comes to the husband, his wife tells him he owes his life to his family and not to God and the grandfather is told he may only have days to live and should live his life as he always has. If anything there seems to be an excuse in all three cases and it is important to remember that they are excuses and there is no real drive to initiate change. People will gladly suffer in ignorance of what God wants them to do. As long as they have a get out clause.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The boy can be forgiven for being naive but the husband who is defended by his family, is an ideal vessel for change. His family could join him on his journey but the wife is too accustomed to a certain lifestyle. If anything Tolstoy may be poking a stick at those who have rather than those who have not. All concerned in the story are middle to upper class. The woman’s voice at the end of the story is interesting as she appears to be the only honest commentator in the story. She tells it like it is. People have a desire to change but people don’t want to change. When they don’t have to or can see a way of avoiding change.
It might also be important that all three, the boy, the husband and the old man are idealistic. Giving no real thought to what change and dedicating a life to God would entail. If anything all three fall at the first hurdle which may leave readers suspecting that all three were not really serious about changing the direction of their lives. All it takes is a family member to dissuade them and highlight for them that the course of action they wish to take is the wrong course of action. Again the woman at the end of the story is the only honest and logical person in the story. She understands a person’s desire to change but more importantly she knows that a person must want to change. Instead people like to talk about change rather than action the change.