The guests begin to leave. Pierre leaves as awkwardly as he arrived, yet his warm, sincere smile inclines everyone to forgive his missteps. As Princess Lise leaves, she quietly plans with Anna Pavlovna to match her sister-in-law Marya with Anatole, Prince Vassily’s son. Prince Ippolit gets in everyone’s way as he says goodbye to the Princess. Later, in his own carriage with the Viscount, they talk about the little princess, whom the Viscount admires. Ippolit says that Russian ladies can be as good as French ladies—one just has to know how to handle them.
Though Pierre is only at the beginning of his struggle to figure out where he fits in society, his kind and genuine nature stands out more than his bumbling. Anna Pavlovna’s plan to marry off Anatole Kuragin moves forward, although it’s hinted that the Kuragin men don’t have good ethics where women are concerned.
At home, Prince Andrei and his friend Pierre discuss the latter’s future. While in Petersburg, Pierre is supposed to be choosing a career, but he can’t make up his mind. He also disagrees with Prince Andrei about going to war—he says it’s wrong to wage war against the world’s greatest man, Napoleon. Prince Andrei argues that if people only went to war over their own convictions, there wouldn’t be any war. As for himself, he’s going to war because the life he leads in Petersburg is dissatisfying.
Pierre is a privileged young man who can essentially choose his path in life, yet ironically, he feels paralyzed by the options available. He and Andrei represent different attitudes about war. Pierre idealizes Napoleon, but Andrei doesn’t think ideals matter much in war. In fact, he’s going to war because he’s disillusioned with Petersburg society and marriage, not because he believes in a cause.
Princess Lise comes in, and Pierre changes the subject to the Princess’s impending departure for the countryside. When the Princess says she’s afraid to live alone with Andrei’s family while pregnant, Andrei cuts her short. Even though Pierre is still there, Lise starts crying and says that Andrei has changed; he no longer pities her. Andrei dismisses her from the room with a warning tone.
Just after Prince Andrei confides that he’s going to war to escape his home life, there’s evidence that Princess Lise’s and Andrei’s marriage is troubled. Andrei appears not to have much patience or respect for his young wife.
Prince Andrei and Pierre have supper. Eventually, Andrei passionately blurts out a warning to his friend: never get married; it will ruin everything that’s best about him. When a man binds himself to a woman, he loses his freedom and must take part in the insipid world of society women. Pierre, who idealizes Andrei, is shocked. Andrei urges Pierre to stop leading a dissolute life with Prince Vassily’s sons, and Pierre agrees.
After the uncomfortable scene between Andrei and Lise, Andrei confides in Pierre that, from his perspective, marriage represents a loss of freedom and the ruination of what’s best about a person, shocking his idealistic friend. However, despite his general cynicism, Andrei sees good in Pierre and urges him not to let it go to waste by keeping unsavory company.
Late that night, Pierre heads home by hired carriage, but at the last moment, he changes his mind and goes to Anatole Kuragin’s for gambling and drinking. He figures that he’d given his word both to Anatole (that he’d show up) and to Andrei (that he wouldn’t), and that such contradictory “words of honor” must be meaningless in the end. When he gets to Kuragin’s, he finds a group of young men playing with a bear on a chain and making a bet.
Pierre immediately goes back on his promise to avoid the Kuragins; his vacillation, and his attempt to rationalize it to himself, suggest his lack of direction in life overall. In fact, he even lacks a strong moral framework for decision-making.
While making Pierre drink glass after glass of wine, Anatole explains that Dolokhov, an army officer, is making a bet with Stevens, an English sailor, that Dolokhov can drink a bottle of rum while sitting in a third-floor window. Dolokhov, a notorious gambler who rarely loses, is respected by the others for his clear-headedness. Everyone watches in suspense as Dolokhov sits in the window and downs the bottle without holding onto anything; he wins the bet. Dolokhov also offers 100 imperials to anyone who can copy his feat. Pierre, now drunk, tries to climb into the window, but Anatole talks him out of it. Then Pierre waltzes around the room with the pet bear.
Dolokhov’s cold steadiness contrasts with Pierre’s lack of control, which just exaggerates his usual social awkwardness—he doesn’t fit smoothly into high Petersburg society, but he doesn’t fit into this dissipated crowd, either. He gets himself in trouble by going along with the whims of whoever surrounds him. This passage also establishes Dolokhov’s indifference to others’ wellbeing, which will come up in another gambling scene later.