After Pierre is released from captivity, he falls ill for three months. He can’t remember much about the period between his release and his illness—it’s a dull, numb memory of pain, intrusive questions from others, and difficulty in finding a carriage. On the day of his release, he saw Petya Rostov’s body. He also learned of Prince Andrei’s death over a month after his wounding at Borodino. On the same day, Denisov told him of Hélène’s death. At the time, none of this sunk in.
Though one would assume that Pierre’s liberation would be a euphoric time, Tolstoy realistically portrays his difficulty in reentering normal life, as well as the torrent of personal griefs that waited for him.
Gradually, as Pierre recovers in Kiev, he gets used to the fact that nobody is going to force him to march anywhere or deprive him of food or a bed. He also gradually comes to understand the news of his wife’s death, Prince Andrei’s death, and the defeat of the French. During this time, he savors the feeling of both internal and external freedom. No one demands anything of him; even thoughts of his wife, which once tormented him, are no longer a burden.
Pierre slowly heals from the trauma of the forced march. For now, the interior freedom he learned in imprisonment remains with him—he has learned how to simply exist and appreciate life.
Instead of seeking a purpose, Pierre now has faith in God. After his captivity, he learned that God has always been right in front of him and all around him. He used to gaze at what he thought were infinite things in the distance, only to be disappointed by their ordinary nature. Now he understands that the infinite is in the ordinary. The more he realizes this, the happier he becomes.
Pierre used to be obsessed with discovering the meaning of life, a meaning he assumed was “out there” somewhere. Whenever he got close to his goals, they inevitably disappointed him. From Platon Karataev and his experiences in captivity, Pierre has discovered contentment in himself and the divine all around him; he no longer has to go searching for it.
Outwardly, Pierre hasn’t changed. He looks the same, and he’s just as absentminded. Only now, instead of seeming tormented by his distractions, he carries a constant awareness of life’s joy, wondering sympathetically if other people are as content as he is. People are drawn to his presence and confide in him, and he draws the best out of them.
Similar to what’s happened to Natasha, personal suffering has caused Pierre to turn outward in sympathy. No longer preoccupied with his own unhappiness, he’s free to show kindness to others.
One day Count Willarski, who had inducted Pierre into the Masonic lodge, passes through town and eagerly stops by for a visit. He thinks Pierre has become apathetic and self-absorbed, yet he enjoys his company. But Pierre finds it hard to believe that he used to identify with this man. Willarski thinks the ordinary business of life is beneath him, and he absorbs himself in military matters, politics, and the Masons instead of his family.
Count Willarski doesn’t understand the “new” Pierre, mistaking his contentment for apathy. Pierre, in turn, finds Willarski’s concerns to be trivial. Their different priorities show how dramatically Pierre has changed.
Somehow, Pierre is also more confident about the practical details of dispensing his fortune. Instead of giving indiscriminately, he has a knack for figuring out where his money should go. He quietly slips a former captive some much-needed money while calmly refusing a French colonel who tries to exploit him. With his chief steward, he determines that though the Moscow fire cost him two million, his income won’t suffer if he lets go of some of his properties around Moscow. Happily, he observes that “My ruin has made me much richer.”
Though he’s always been generous, Pierre used to be clueless about managing his estate. Captivity has taught him to look at his wealth apart from the social pressures that usually accompany it. This allows him to put his money to more effective use.
However, Pierre changes his mind and decides to return to Moscow, deal with his late wife’s debts, and rebuild his houses. As he travels to Moscow, he feels like a “schoolboy on vacation”—everything fascinates him. Willarski, who’s traveling with Pierre, constantly complains of Russia’s backwardness, but Pierre just smiles, moved by the resilience of Russia’s people.
After captivity, Pierre finds new savor in ordinary life. Someone like Willarski, who’s never stepped outside of society, is unable to see its beauty the way Pierre now can.
Even though Moscow is utterly destroyed, people swarm back into the city in October—there is something “immaterial but mighty and indestructible” about it. Peasants, clergy, and tradesmen trickle back in. Even Count Rastopchin starts writing proclamations again. By the fall of 1813, Moscow’s population is higher than its population in 1812. Life gets back to normal.
Within several weeks of the French invasion, the spiritual heart of Russia is restored to life. Not only that, it quickly thrives. Tolstoy suggests that the spirit of the Russian people is deeply resilient; like Pierre and Natasha, the people as a whole seem to be returning to life after their suffering.