After Prince Andrei’s death, both Natasha and Princess Marya find that every ordinary detail of life aggravates grief. Even though they don’t talk about what happened, they only find comfort when they’re together. Thinking about the future feels like a betrayal of Andrei’s memory, and talking about him seems to violate the mystery of his death.
After two weeks, however, Princess Marya has to respond to life’s demands once again and begins preparing to move to Moscow. Natasha declines the invitation to live with her there, as she’s on the verge of understanding something and must continue to wrestle with it. She recalls a particular conversation with Andrei when he said that “to bind yourself forever to a suffering man […] is eternal torment.” Natasha had brushed off these words by assuring Andrei that he would get well. Now Natasha wishes she could tell Andrei that she’d rather suffer than live without him.
In coping with Prince Andrei’s death, Natasha squarely faces suffering for the first time—not just the consequences of her own actions. When Andrei was still alive, she shrank from the reality of his suffering. Now she would rather embrace his suffering than accept his death.
Just as Natasha feels she’s nearing a breakthrough, Dunyasha comes into the room, crying, and tells her to go to her father—there’s been a misfortune. Natasha is shocked to see the Count weeping like a child. The Countess is sobbing and beating her head against the wall while Sonya and the maids try to restrain her. Over the coming days, her mother retreats into insanity, unable to believe she can live in a world without Petya. Natasha doesn’t leave her side during that time.
The news of Petya’s death hastens Natasha’s growth in accepting suffering and death. From being the indulged daughter, Natasha now shoulders her parents’ grief, setting aside her own feelings to care for them.
Before Petya’s death, the Countess had been a lively 50-year-old woman, but when she finally emerges from her room, she’s become an old woman. Yet the wound of Petya’s death actually brings Natasha to new life. After Prince Andrei’s death, Natasha believed her life was over, but her love for her mother teaches her that there’s still life in her: “love awoke, and life awoke.”
Natasha begins to understand that as long as she has the capacity to love, she can live. From her immature confusion during her engagement to her denial on Andrei’s deathbed, she now understands that real love unselfishly seeks another person’s good.
Prince Andrei’s and Petya’s deaths draw Princess Marya and Natasha closer together. From that time, a deep, tender bond forms between the two women. Natasha comes to appreciate Marya’s attitude of religious self-denial, and Marya admires Natasha’s delight in life’s pleasures. They still refrain from discussing Andrei. Little by little, they even begin to forget him. When Princess Marya goes to Moscow at the end of January, Natasha finally agrees to go with her.
Suffering and grief help create an enlivening bond between Marya and Natasha, which leads to the possibility of new beginnings.