Perpetually prey to new ideas, a man of strong emotions, although lacking the will to control them, Pierre in many ways represents a typical Russian nobleman. He is the protagonist of the novel and expresses some of Tolstoy's favorite personal beliefs.
Lacking a legitimate father to provide him with a self-image, Pierre's career is a quest for self-definition. Pierre himself provides us with the key to this quest when, in Book I, he values Napoleon as the man who carries out the ideas of the French revolution. His ideas of freeing man from the stultification of class life, ideas implicit in the French revolution, indicate the nature of his search and its resolution. Pierre can find no freedom until he gives up the"outer man," and his quest fails so long as he seeks an answer within his class; that is, when he frees his serfs, joins the masons, observes Borodino as a spectator rather than as a soldier.
When he is an identity-lacking prisoner, and is all but executed for his namelessness, he begins to discover his own nature. Those very qualities that were weaknesses of character in society become, through the isolation of suffering and imprisonment, his strengths. Baptized by suffering, morally cleansed through the experience of death, Pierre is reborn into a sense of freedom of self, borrowing of Karataev's sole possession of"inner harmony."
Pierre's great weakness, like that of Tolstoy, is his sensuality, and his problem is to harness the forces of his nature into the mainstream of nature itself. Domesticity solves this problem, and while Pierre does not become like Karataev, he maintains an ability to actively participate in natural life with its daily vicissitudes and moments of futility and still have the inner harmony that expresses the expectation of death. Once having known the nearness of death, dying holds no terrors for Pierre. He can thus live fully, even sensually, and still follow all the ideas his expansive nature feeds upon. Pierre's final resolution is a compromise, but one that turns his personal foibles into strengths and harmonizes his temporal nature with the infinity of life.