Leo Tolstoy’s After The Dance

One of my most favorite short stories that I consider the deepest of them all is After The Dance, by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy is a famous Russian author who influenced the writings of many later Russian authors, including Boris Pasternak, who won the Nobel Literature Prize. Leo grew up wealthy and rich, but ended up living poor, not because he had to, but because he chose to.

In this short story, in order for one to be able to get the author’s message, one must analyze in the context of the author’s life and in the context of the Russian history at the story’s time. So just keep that in mind. Here is the story (click link): After The Dance.

After reading it, here are some questions to get you thinking:

1) In the beginning, Ivan sets out to prove that it is all by chance. Yet in the end, he seems to prove that it is by environment. What do you think the author is trying to say?

2) In the beginning Ivan loved Varinka. Later, he dislikes it. What does this symbolize? And why not mention her surname?

3) Who do the engineer and the blacksmith symbolize?

4) In one part of the story, Ivan describes that the more he is in love, the less corporeal Varinka was. Someone objects to Ivan that he should have felt Varinka since he was dancing with her, but Ivan responds: “Nowadays… you undress the women you are in love with… we never thought of doing so; we tried to veil her nakedness.” What is important about this?

5) Read the descriptions of Varinka, her father, and the hostess. What do these tell you?

6) One memory that was stuck in Ivan’s mind was the seemingly harmonious relationship between Varinka and her father, when they danced. Any symbolism?

7) Near the story’s end, Ivan tries to convince himself that there must have been a reason for the beating. Why does Ivan do this?

8) What scene is alluded when the beating of the deserter is described?

9) What do the gifts of the feather and glove symbolize?

10) Ivan admires the father’s boots because he thinks the father sacrifices it so Varinka could dress pretty. What does this represent in the historical context?

11) If Ivan had attended the dance after seeing the beating, how would he view Varinka and everything about her?

12) What is the overarching theme?


Merry Christmas!

It’s December 25, and that means Christmas is here! I hope all of you are in the cheers today!

Well, for today, we will first start off with the discussion questions for “The Christmas Memory” from yesterday’s post. You can download the story from there.

1) Obviously, the fruitcake symbolizes friendship. Notice that Buddy and his cousin don’t give off fruitcakes to that much people, only to certain people now and then who really impress them. For them,  true friendship is something not easily found, but rather something that is rare and needs to be treasured. Another evidence includes the cousin always sending Buddy “the best of the patch.” This signifies that the relationship between Buddy and his cousin are the strongest friendships they ever had.

2) The narrator probably is called Buddy by his cousin because maybe the cousin is trying to relive her friendship from long ago. Again, to them friendships are rare, but they are also in a sense fragile, so the cousin is trying to hold on to this friendship that she had long ago. Perhaps another better reason is that  even though friendships are fragile, they can never be broken. Once you make someone your friend, that friend will always be inside your heart. In this case, the real Buddy died long ago, but in the cousin’s mind, this friendship with the real Buddy is still living and will always last forever.

3) Buddy and his cousin are scrambling for money so they can make their fruitcakes. Remember that fruitcakes symbolize friendship. What the author is trying to say here is that making a relationship is not an easy thing to do. Rather, it requires tons of hard work and commitment in order to start building a friendship.

4) Mr. Haha was thought to be mean, but he turns out to be nice. My interpretation of this is that no matter how bad a person is, he is in a fact a good person inside his heart. Or more accurately, everybody has the potential to be good. Also notice Mr. Haha is a foreigner from India, thus the reason Buddy keeps on thinking he’s scary. Perhaps another lesson here is that even though differences set us apart, we can all learn to get along together.

5) Buddy being separated from his cousin emphasizes the fragility of friendships. They are fragile due to many outside situations, and in this case, Buddy is being sent off to military school. Notice where he is being sent off: military school. When we think of the military, we usually think of harshness, cruelness, and war. Perhaps all of this symbolizes that these military-like elements are what break relationships apart. Maybe the military symbolizes the world itself, in which this world is harsh and cruel. And it is because of all those worldly situations that separate people.

The age differences perhaps show that no matter how different people are, they can still be friends. Yet, in the story, it is this age difference that causes the cousin’s death and physically breaks the friendship. However, I think the author wrote this event to show us that friendships will last even after death, as evident by Buddy still thinking about his cousin. (Hmm. sorry. This recent pargrph probably doesn’t make sense.)

6) Questions 6 and 7 tie into each other. Truman Capote writes this story maybe because he had a similar experience. But all in all, it is to show the reader that the holiday of Christmas is a time to recognize these friendships that we have, these friendships that are so hard to find, so hard to build up, yet easily so fragile.

A Christmas Memory

Hello everybody! It’s Christmas Eve! Are you guys going to wait for Santa, or anything? 🙂

Speaking of Christmas, download this short story called A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. I guarantee you that it is one of the most touching stories that you will ever read. I nearly cried at the end.

After you read the story, answer some of these discussion questions:

1) What does the gift of fruitcake symbolize, and what things can you infer from this fact?

2) Why does the narrator’s cousin call the narrator Buddy, after her long-ago friend?

3) In one part of the story, it talks about Buddy and his cousin trying to make as much money as possible. What is the significance of this?

4) Mr. Haha turns out to be nice. What is your interpretation of this?

5) Buddy is later sent off to military school and is separated from his cousin. His cousin then later dies. Also notice the age difference. What does all of this say to you?

6) Why do you think the author Truman Capote decided to write this?

7) What is the major overlying theme in the short story?

For tomorrow, I will discuss these question and do some more things. Sleep tight for Santa!

“Checkmate” Discussion Question Answers

Hello people. In yesterday’s post, I wrote some discussion questions for my poem “Checkmate” (in which you can download it from my download/links page). In today’s post, here are the answers.

1) The setting of the story is at an outdoors bench. The poem begins at 5 pm and ends at around midnight. I chose this setting because I wanted to emphasize on the night getting darker and darker. If I had done it indoors, then I couldn’t have emphasized on this detail.


playing chess outdoors in the night

2) The opponent is actually Death itself. The “black cloak” and the “hidden” face are all characteristics of Death. The “ravenous eyes” mentioned later in the poem can refer to Death’s hunger in taking lives. Throughout the whole poem, I talk about or give a sense of the fact that the speaker must lose no matter what. Similarly, no one can beat Death and will always have to lose to him.

3) The transition from day to night symbolizes from birth to death for the speaker.

4) The handshake symbolizes one coming in contact with death, since the opponent here is Death. In the poem’s beginning, Death and the speaker “shake hands only for a moment.” This is representing the fact that once in our lives we will have a brush with death, whether if a relative died or if we ever thought about dying. Another handshake occurs at the end, “the final, eternal handshake.” The speaker has lost the game, which symbolizes his life, and this eternal shake acknowledging he has lost symbolizes his death. By shaking hands for eternity, he will stay with Death forever, or simply stay dead forever.

5) Again, as I mentioned, the game of chess is actually the game of life. By “the greatest chess player in the world,” I meant someone who has succeeded very well in the game of life and is very much successful.

6) The fact that the speaker was winning initially symbolizes that in our early lives, we are youthful and strong and smart. But when the speaker starts losing to Death, this symbolizes our much inferior state as we start getting older.

7) The overall theme is that you cannot beat Death; Death is inevitable.

So, these are the answers. Before the start of next Monday, I will post a deeper in-depth analysis of my poem “Checkmate.” In my next post, we will move away from the subject of literature into the subject of science.

Discussion Questions for Checkmate poem

Here are some questions to help you get thinking about my poem

1) What is the setting of the story, and why was this setting chosen?

2) The opponent in the poem is unnamed. Any idea who this person can be?

3) What does the transition from day to night symbolize?

4) What does the handshake symbolize?

5) What does the game of chess symbolize? From this, what does the author mean by “the greatest chess player in the world”?

6) What deeper meaning does the fact that the speaker was winning initially have?

7) Lastly, what is the major theme here?

My next post I will answer these questions and possibly later I will write an analysis of my poem.