Summary and Analysis
Book XV: Chapters 12–20
Although outwardly unchanged, Pierre is inwardly different since his imprisonment. He has become a good listener and everyone who talks to him feels understood and secure. His quiet gentleness encourages people to open their hearts to him and express the best sides of their character. Decisions now come easily to Pierre; no longer is he perplexed by doubts that hampered his judgment in former times.
Three months have passed since the day of his liberation and Pierre crosses the now-bustling city of Moscow to visit Princess Marya. Gazing closely into the stern thin face of Marya's black-clad companion, he suddenly recognizes Natasha. They spend the evening in heart-to-heart discussions. Marya tells about Prince Andrey and how he was filled with understanding when he died. Pierre tells them about his new faith in God, how he feels the omnipresence and infinitude of God in his soul, and how the old burning questions have no meaning anymore in his new-found peace and freedom. For the first time, he talks of his imprisonment and his friendship with Karataev and the execution and the forced marches. Natasha describes in detail her last days with Prince Andrey and the depth of her love for him. This is the first time she has mentioned the subject in all these months, and Princess Marya rejoices at the rapport between Natasha and Pierre. Pierre's statement before they all part sums up his belief:"We imagine that as soon as we are torn out of our habitual path all is over, but it is only the beginning of something new and good. As long as there is life, there is happiness." Natasha tells Marya late that night how"clean and smooth" Pierre seems, just as if he has just emerged from a bath, a moral bath.
All that is left for Tolstoy to tell is the"happy ending" of his surviving protagonists, and this he leaves for the First Epilogue. Having satisfied the nihilism of Prince Andrey with death, the author discusses the affirmative life-seeking resolutions of Pierre with his newborn soul. Natasha's referring to this baptism when she speaks of Pierre's"moral bath" shows her recognition of a future liberated from the memories of the past. She and Pierre are ready for a new life together, a life founded on the acceptance and understanding of death.
Tolstoy thus defines maturity in these favorite protagonists. Maturity, he seems to say, is an internalization of death as part of the life process. His system of growth is based on the unity of the forces of life with death, of the experiences of the past that are part of the chain toward the future, of the universality of human souls, both living and dead. Andrey's spirit has contributed to the depth of that of Natasha, while the spirit of Platon lives within Pierre.