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.