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Tolstoy as a Schoolmaster

교사로서의 톨스토이

By Ernest Howard Crosby




Chapter 2

Fights at School

Tolstoy does not believe in interfering in the fights of children. "The master throws himself between them to separate them," he says, "and the two enemies look at each other angrily. Unable to restrain themselves even in the presence of the master whom they fear, they end by grappling with each other more hotly than ever. How many times on the same day do I see Kirouschka, with set teeth, fall upon Taraska, seize him by the hair and throw him down; it looks as if he wished to disfigure him and leave him for dead. But before a moment has passed, Taraska is already laughing under Kirouschka and turns the tables on him. In five minutes they are good friends again, sitting side by side.

"Not long ago two boys began fighting in a corner after school -- one of them a remarkable mathematician of nine years or so, a pupil of the second class; the other a little fellow with black eyes, close-cropped hair, intelligent but vindictive, named Kiska. Kiska seized the long hair of the mathematician and pushed his head against the wall, while the latter tried in vain to catch hold of the shorn locks of his assailant. Kiska's black eyes glistened with triumph, and the mathematician could hardly keep back his tears.

"'Well, well! What is it? What is it? What is it?' he said, but you could easily see that it was hurting him, and that he was only trying to appear brave. This lasted for some time, and I was in doubt as to what to do.

"'They are fighting! They are fighting!' the children cried, and they crowded into the corner. The little ones laughed, but the big boys, although they did not try to separate the combatants, looked at them with a serious expression. Kiska noticed their looks and the silence. He understood that what he was doing was not right. He began to smile, and gradually let go the hair of the mathematician. The latter freed himself, smashed Kiska against the wall, and then went off quite satisfied. The little fellow began to cry and rushed after his enemy, hitting him with all his might on the coat but without hurting him. The mathematician was about to hit back, when cries of disapproval rang out.

"'Look, he is hitting a little boy!' shouted the spectators. 'Run away, Kiska!'

"The matter ended there without leaving a trace, except probably the dim idea in the minds of both lads that fighting is disagreeable. In this case the sentiment of justice was aroused by the crowd, but how often such affairs are ended, by virtue of some unknown laws, to the dissatisfaction of both parties! How arbitrary and unjust in comparison are all the remedies employed in such cases!

"'You are both to blame; on your knees! ' says the teacher.

"And he is wrong, for there is only one of them to blame, who triumphs as he kneels down, gloating over his badness, while the innocent one is doubly punished.

"Or: 'You are to blame for doing this or that, and you shall be punished!' says the teacher; and the punished child will only hate his enemy the more, feeling as he does a despotic power at his side whose legitimacy he does not recognize.

"Or: 'Forgive him, God wishes it so, and be better than he is,' says the teacher.

"You tell him to be 'better than he is,' but he wishes only to be stronger; better,-he does not understand what it means.

"Or: 'You are both to blame; ask each other's pardon and kiss each other, my children.'

"This is the worst of all, for the kiss will not be sincere, and the bad feeling, stilled for a moment, may awake again.

"Leave them alone then, unless you are the father or the mother, who, full of pity for their son, always assume the right to pull the hair of whoever beats him. Leave them alone and see how everything arranges itself, calms itself, simply and naturally."

Tolstoy has given as much space to the account of the fight between Kiska and the mathematician as Homer devotes to a combat of heroes. Simple as the story is, it possesses, even after being translated into French and from French into English, all the realism which distinguishes his great novels. Before such a boys' fight well may the teacher feel the same hesitation that Tolstoy experienced, and it is worthy of consideration whether the natural termination of such encounters is not usually more salutary than the interference of a deus ex machina, who, in inflicting punishment and reproof, often exhibits a spirit worse than that of either of the pugilists.




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