Leo Tolstoy is one of the greatest writers of the last two hundred years. His novels tend to convey an insight on life; whether it be about suffering, death, religion, art, or education. Tolstoy was a man with many strong beliefs, and one must understand these beliefs to fully understand the meaning of his works. He was a deeply religious moral philosopher who used his religious beliefs to shape our understanding on issues of life. He stresses the inequality of social classes and, as apparent in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the suffering in life. Tolstoy was so strong in his beliefs that he actually attempted giving away his material possessions. He believed that that this practice was necessary to live in accordance with his moral and religious views. To fully grasp Tolstoy's message, one must examine his views on religion, art, and life.
Religion is the most important subject to look at with Tolstoy because it shapes his views on the other topics. He followed a list of religious principles that he found important during his life. These principles included avoiding anger and lust, neither taking oaths or resisting evil, and loving everyone including your enemies. Tolstoy found that these characteristics were displayed best in peasant life and not in the aristocracy. For this reason, he lived many years of his life dressing as a peasant and helping those who were less fortunate. He set up a school at his estate, Yasnaya Polyana, and chose not to indulge in the luxuries of life. His belief in his principles were so strong that he eventually spoke out against the Russian Orthodox which led to his excommunication in 1901. In his essay, "What is Religion?”, Tolstoy writes, "True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions” (Reader p. 320).