When Princess Marya hears that Prince Andrei is with the Rostovs in Yaroslavl, she immediately makes plans to go there herself, along with seven-year-old Nikolushka. The journey is difficult because they can’t take the Moscow road, and post-horses are often unavailable; yet Princess Marya’s energy is unflagging. Her love for Rostov has transformed her life, and she is happy. As she approaches Yaroslavl, however, her grief over Andrei weighs her down again. When the carriage stops, Sonya and the Countess hurry to welcome her. The Count looks different from the last time Marya saw him—lost and confused.
As in the aftermath of her father’s death, Princess Marya can boldly take charge of situations when the circumstances call for it. On top of that, Nikolai has broadened the horizons of her life. However, the gravity of the situation soon catches up with her. The Count, one of the most relentlessly cheerful people in the novel, looks bereft. The Rostovs are refugees, Andre may be dying, and nothing is as it should be.
Impatient to see Prince Andrei, Princess Marya feels frustrated with the family’s polite chatter. When Natasha runs into the room—the same girl whom Princess Marya had disliked when she was engaged to Andrei—Marya embraces her, and they weep together. Marya can see instantly that Natasha has given herself wholeheartedly to caring for Andrei.
Grief and suffering instantly change the context of Marya’s and Natasha’s relationship. Before, Marya saw Natasha as a threatening intruder in the family; now, Marya sees her as a ministering angel.
The two women stop to compose themselves outside Andrei’s room. Natasha explains that Andrei’s early fever, as well as the threat of gangrene, had passed. But when the Rostovs arrived in Yaroslavl, Andrei’s wound began to fester. She tells Marya nothing more, but Marya senses what she means when she says, “This happened.” As she’s expected, Prince Andrei’s face has assumed a childlike mildness and tenderness foretelling death. But when Andrei speaks, his voice is alarmingly flat. Marya thinks a shriek would be less frightening. Andrei can no longer relate to anything living, Marya knows, because he has come to understand something beyond the living.
Natasha’s unspoken meaning is that Andrei’s condition has turned an irrevocable corner. This becomes obvious when he speaks—Andrei’s detached demeanor tells Marya that even though his body is still here, his mind and soul have already turned toward things beyond.
Prince Andrei tells Princess Marya that Natasha is caring for him, and that it’s strange how fate has brought them together. Marya is disturbed—if Andrei were himself, he wouldn’t speak of Natasha in such a detached way in front of her. He also seems indifferent to news of the destruction of Moscow. Andrei tells Marya that Nikolai Rostov wrote to him, speaking highly of her, and that he thinks it would be good if they got married. Marya changes the subject, offering to bring Nikolushka in. Andrei’s smile in response is mocking. Chilled, Marya realizes that he’s mocking her for this last attempt to restore him to normalcy.
Andrei doesn’t really care about catastrophic news like the burning of Moscow—even after fighting in battle as recently as a few days ago, the events of war no longer hold any relevance for him. Tolstoy suggests that the chasm between earthly and eternal realities really is that stark. This is why Andrei smiles mockingly—to him, it’s ludicrous to try to draw him back to worldly concerns, even people he loves.
After an awkward visit with Nikolushka—Andrei doesn’t know what to say to him—Princess Marya starts to cry. Andrei begins, “Marie, do you know the Gosp…” but he falls silent. In his mind, he struggles to comprehend their point of view. He knows his sister is crying because Nikolushka will be orphaned. The answer seems simple: “The birds of the air neither sow nor reap, but your Father feeds them.” Yet Andrei knows that if he quotes this verse, they won’t understand. They can’t grasp that earthly thoughts and feelings, which seem so important to the living, don’t finally matter.
Prince Andrei’s quote is a shortened version of a line from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. His point is that God cares for those who have no way of caring for themselves—a point that seems so obvious to him that it isn’t worth worrying about. Grief is for those who, like Marya, are still attached to earthly life. Ironically, his spiritual younger sister is now more worldly than he is.
Though Nikolushka is only seven years old, he understands everything that happens in his father’s room that day. Starting that day, he avoids his tutor Dessales and spends most of his time around Princess Marya and especially Natasha. After this conversation, Princess Marya no longer hopes for Andrei’s recovery. She joins Natasha in tending her brother and prays constantly.
A sensitive boy, Nikolushka knows his father is dying and begins to draw closer to those he associates with Andrei. Princess Marya sees just as clearly that there’s no reason to hope for his survival.
Prince Andrei feels that he’s already half dead. He feels distant from earthly things and strangely light. The unknown and eternal feels nearby, but he no longer dreads it; it’s almost comprehensible, and he waits patiently for whatever comes next. He lost his fear of death when he returned to consciousness after being wounded. Though he didn’t consciously renounce earthly life, he gradually became more and more absorbed in the contemplation of eternal love.
When Prince Andrei was injured on the field at Austerlitz, he felt distant from eternity. Now it’s near enough to be felt. Andrei has realized that the meaning of earthly life is love, and this all-absorbing reality removes the dread of death.
He finds that loving everything and everyone necessarily means sacrificing himself, ceasing to live. This makes death a welcome prospect. And yet—ever since his reunion with Natasha, love for her has subtly bound him to life again. It reminds him of seeing Anatole Kuragin at the medical station. He’s tormented by the question of whether Kuragin is still alive.
Eternal love requires one’s whole self, and giving oneself in this way consumes a person’s life. Yet it seems that loving a particular person, as opposed to loving humanity as a whole, inevitably tethers a person to existence.
When Natasha refers to something that happened to Andrei two days earlier, she means Andrei’s last struggle between life and death. In the evening after dinner, Natasha sat by his bed, knitting. Andrei wondered if fate had brought them together just in time for him to die. He groaned, and when she leaned over to check on him, he told her he loved her more than anything. Natasha beamed rapturously when she heard this.
This is a flashback to Andrei’s decisive turning toward eternity. At the time, Andrei feels tormented with renewed love for Natasha.
Prince Andrei fell asleep thinking about love and death. It seemed to him that he understood everything, that everything exists, because of love; so to die means to return to love’s eternal source. Yet something bothered him. He had a nightmare about death forcing its way into the room. Yet just as Andrei dies in the dream, he wakes up, realizing that death itself is an “awakening.” From that moment on, a “strange lightness” never leaves him—an “awakening from life.”
Andrei had already come to understand that the meaning of everything is love; yet he still somewhat resisted the prospect of death. His nightmare led him to realize that death is like waking up from a dream, into a higher, eternal form of life.
Prince Andrei’s final days are quiet and simple. Princess Marya and Natasha sense that he has already left them and that they’re simply taking care of his body. They both understand, without talking about it, that Andrei is sinking away from them, and that this is how it must be. He receives the last rites and kisses Nikolushka goodbye, with an air of fulfilling what’s expected of him. Natasha and Marya are with him when he dies. As the family gathers around the coffin, Nikolushka weeps with a broken heart, but the women weep out of reverence for “the simple and solemn mystery of death” that they’ve just witnessed.
Having realized life’s meaning and the nature of death, Prince Andrei has exhausted his reasons to live. That’s why, though he loves his son, kissing Nikolushka goodbye is a perfunctory act. This undercuts the convention of a dramatic deathbed scene. Andrei’s survivors grieve because he’s cut off from them. As far as Andrei is concerned, he is already mostly gone.