That evening of August 25th, Prince Andrei lies in a shed on the outskirts of a village. He feels nervous and excited, much as he did before the battle of Austerlitz seven years earlier. He is also tormented with the fear, almost the certainty, of imminent death. His whole life, especially his greatest griefs (his love for Natasha, his father’s death, and the invasion of Russia), now seem simple and even foolish in the stark light of death. He pictures the forest, the clouds, and the smoking campfires outlasting him and feels chilled with fear.
Prince Andrei has had a long journey to this point—loss, disillusionment, absence of purpose, not to mention near misses with death himself. Even after all this, the prospect of dying in battle puts everything else in perspective, and ordinary objects feel threatening, reminding him that life will go on after him—perhaps as soon as tomorrow.
Prince Andrei hears someone cursing in French outside his shelter. He finds Pierre tripping over a pole. Pierre stutters awkwardly when he sees the hostility in Andrei’s face. He says he’s come because the battle seemed “interesting,” and Prince Andrei mockingly asks what the Masons have to say about that. Turning serious, he also asks about his family’s welfare and learns that they’ve made it safely to the Bolkonsky estate outside Moscow. With some nearby officers, they have tea and discuss different commanders.
Out of place as ever, Pierre stumbles into Andrei’s camp and gets a chilly welcome, thanks to Andrei’s bitter and pensive mood. Andrei needles Pierre about the fact that the Masons are technically pacifists. Andrei knows his friend well, and his struggles with inconsistent ethics. It’s an inconsistency Andrei is familiar with, too.
Prince Andrei argues that a healthy Russia could be commanded by anyone, including a “precise German” like de Tolly. But a struggling Russia must be commanded by one of her own. Passionately, he adds that the army’s success doesn’t depend on commanders’ instructions, on ammunition, or even on position—it depends instead on the spirit of the men. Battles, he thinks, are won by those who are determined to win them. In Andrei’s mind, the outcome of the battle depends on who fights hardest—and he believes that will be the Russians.
Prince Andrei knows the Russian military situation well. He’s been Kutuzov’s adjutant, he’s fought in many battles, and he’s served alongside rank-and-file soldiers. On the eve of the biggest battle in his life, he expresses some of Tolstoy’s own arguments: that Russia thrives under Russian leadership, and that ultimately, commanders’ orders and battle dispositions are less critical than men’s morale.
Prince Andrei and Pierre hear Wolzogen and Clausewitz riding by, conversing in German. They’re discussing the importance of weakening the enemy, no matter how many individual lives must be spent. Prince Andrei sarcastically mocks these “German gentlemen” who can only reason and therefore cannot win the battle. He also asserts that he doesn’t believe in taking prisoners. The French destroyed his home and will try to destroy Moscow, so they are his enemies—they deserve execution.
Prince Andrei’s point about reason is that, while well-reasoned strategies have a place in war, they’re not decisive in battles, and those who rely on them won’t be successful. His attitude about the war has also become noticeably harsher and more personal since the French invaded Russia; it’s no longer a question of political alliances, but of national pride.
Up until now, Prince Andrei says, the armies have been merely “playing at war,” pretending to be chivalrous. But there’s nothing courteous about war—it’s “the vilest thing in the world,” and until people accept that, it’s not worth going to war. He concludes this outburst by saying that it’s become difficult for him to live—he understands too much. He embraces Pierre and goes back into his shed. Pierre is sure he won’t see Andrei again.
Prince Andrei argues that war must be faced head-on, its ugliness acknowledged upfront. As long as people pretend that there’s anything beautiful or honorable about war, they won’t fight with conviction. Andrei seems exhausted by his long search for truth and his embrace of hard realities.
Prince Andrei can’t sleep that night. He remembers an evening in Petersburg when Natasha exuberantly told him a story about going mushroom-hunting in the forest. He smiles at the memory. He understood Natasha’s open, sincere soul, he feels—and Anatole Kuragin didn’t. He just saw an innocent young girl he didn’t really care about—and he continues to live happily. Prince Andrei jumps up and starts pacing again.
Prince Andrei saw and loved Natasha for who she is. For that reason, he finds it hard to bear the fact that a heartless, uncaring man stole her from him. Though he’s accepted some difficult truths about war, this truth seems the most painful of all.