The Bird by Leo Tolstoy
In The Bird by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of control, freedom, selfishness, responsibility and change. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of control. Serozha wants to use his gift from his uncle to control the lives of the birds that he might be able to trap. He wants to take away their freedom and put them in a cage for his own amusement. Though some critics might suggest that Serozha is acting as a child should act. This does not take away from the fact that he wishes to change the lives of each bird he catches. Everything is for Serozha’s enjoyment and he has no real consideration that he might be taking each bird out of its natural habitat. Which may leave some readers to suspect that Serozha is being selfish or self-centered. Thinking only of his own enjoyment and disregarding the natural desires of the birds he tries to trap.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Serozha’s mother does not put her foot down when it comes to the bird trap. She knows that it is wrong but there is sense that she is allowing for Serozha to learn for himself. It is only by learning for himself of the dangers of the trap that Serozha will truly learn a lesson. In many ways Serozha without knowing it is trying to break the spirit of the bird he traps. The cage is after all an unnatural environment for the bird. Which is probably the reason as to why the bird eventually dies. Something that may not have occurred should the bird be allowed to remain free. It may also be a case that Tolstoy is just using a bird as an example and that his intentions are to instruct people not to trap wild animals. To not break the spirit of the animal. That a wild animal lives in the wild and should be left to prosper in the wild without the interference of man. If anything man is not a friend to wild animals and views such types of animals as trophies. Something for his own pleasure. As is very much the case when it comes to Serozha and the bird.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The cage represents containment or the loss of freedom. The trap may symbolise the tools that man will use in order to trap or control an animal. Serozha’s looking after of the bird could also be symbolic of the lack of care that man will provide or can provide to a wild animal. If anything man is ignorant of the needs of wild animals and has no right to try and trap or control them. Serozha’s mother may also represent a level head, particularly because she allows for Serozha to learn from his mistakes. The fact that the birds wings are beating against the bars of the trap gives the reader a sense of panic and foreshadowing to what happens later in the story when the bird dies. There is also a possibility that Tolstoy is exploring the theme of responsibility (on two counts). Firstly Serozha is not old enough to act responsibly and to take care of the bird and secondly Serozha has to take responsibility for his actions. The bird died because it was trapped by Serozha.
The end of the story is interesting as Serozha’s decision not to try and trap another bird shows that he has changed in some way. He is acting like a boy would who knows what responsibility is. Which may have the feel of a nice ending to the story except for the fact that the bird lost its life due to Serozha’s actions. He may not repeat them. Which is a lesson in itself but at the same time Serozha is responsible for the bird’s death. Something he may not punish himself over or be expected to punish himself over. Serozha after all is only a child and every child (and adult) makes mistakes that they should not be over duly punished for. The important thing to remember is that Serozha has learnt a lesson when it comes to trapping wild animals. He will not trap another wild animal again no matter how much fun he had in doing so. Serozha has learnt that there are consequences for his actions and this in itself is a valuable lesson to learn. Man has no right to try and trap wild animals and animals that are wild should be allowed to stay in their natural habitat. Free from any human scrutiny or desire to be controlled by man.