Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 1 Part 2 Chapters 15 21 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 1, Part 2, Chapters 15–21 | Summary



Prince Andrei has persuaded Kutuzov to allow him to fight with Bagration, and in Chapter 15 he is surveying the troops. When he gets to the front line, he sees that in the middle the opposing armies are close enough to speak to each other. He hears Dolokhov arguing with a French grenadier. At one point another Russian soldier begins to produce a nonsensical patter of make-believe French. Soon both sides are laughing, "after which it seemed they ought quickly to unload their guns, blow up their munitions, and all quickly go back home."

Next Prince Andrei goes up to the battery (Chapter 16) and hears the artillery officer, Captain Tushin, having a philosophical discussion about death with fellow soldiers. Suddenly a cannonball is in the air, and the Russians are taken by surprise as the French call off the truce on Napoleon's orders. Chapters 17 and 18 describe the battle in which the commander issues some orders, but Andrei notices that mostly he simply approves the actions of his sub-commanders and creates the impression that everything is done on his order. He also notices that his presence calms the troops and inspires courage.

In Chapter 19 Tushin's battery sets fire to the village of Schöngraben and keeps firing on the French, allowing the Russians to retreat. The left flank, however, is in trouble, and Bagration sends his adjutant, Zherkov, to tell the infantry and hussars (Nikolai's regiment) to retreat. Zherkov, however, is too frightened to deliver his message. At one point the hussars are cut off from the infantry and must face the enemy. Nikolai drifts off from his regiment, his horse shot from under him. As he stumbles around, he is surprised that people are trying to kill him—a man whom everybody loves. A French soldier runs toward him, and he throws his pistol at him instead of shooting it and runs into the bushes.

In Chapter 20 Dolokhov fights bravely under fire and is wounded; he makes sure to inform his commander of his deeds. Zherkov also fails to deliver retreat orders to the artillery, which keeps firing until someone else delivers the order again. Andrei arrives to help the artillery remove their cannons, forcing himself to remain calm under fire.

The wounded Nikolai is given a ride on the cannon during Tushin's retreat in Chapter 21, although many of the wounded are left behind. Tushin is then called to task by Bagration for abandoning two of his artillery guns. Andrei stands up for him, saying, "we owe the success of the day most of all to the operation of this battery and the heroic endurance of Captain Tushin and his company." Andrei feels disappointed and downhearted after the battle, which was nothing like what he had expected.


Tolstoy's antiwar theme pervades the novel, and the author takes every opportunity to show that war is chaotic, random, senseless, and unnatural. Nowhere in the novel is war depicted as glorious, and the excitement that battle elicits in soldiers is shown to be a perversion of noble feelings. The absurdity of war is highlighted in Chapter 15, when Prince Andrei, while surveying the troops, finds Russian and French soldiers on the front line somewhat playfully insulting one another. The narrator wistfully comments that perhaps they should all go home, but then soberly reports that "the guns remained loaded ... and the unlimbered cannon remained turned against each other just as before."

Andrei follows Bagration around as part of his suite and sees how, on the one hand, the commander is essential to the success of the troops, but on the other, the work of fighting is carried out by the rank-and-file. Captain Tushin, who is modest and deeply conscientious, is one of the characters in the novel who embodies the Russian soul. The Russian soul is associated with the folk—the peasants, the "salt of the earth." As pointed out by Tolstoy scholar Laura Olson, Tolstoy, "like many romantic authors, mythologizes the folk in order to critique Western morality." The folk are pure, without guile, and free of self-consciousness. The folk find their morality and locate their center in connection and community, Olson says, and the Russian soul in Tolstoy has all of the qualities of the folk soul. Tushin is a simple man committed to his mission in a community of soldiers. He doesn't wait for orders and bravely holds off the French long enough for the Russians to retreat. Tushin is the hero of the day, but in his modesty he is ashamed to have lost two of his cannons, even though there was no way for him to save them without covering troops. Andrei feels disgusted after he has to defend him; he has expected war to be honorable, rational, and glorious—but he is beginning to find that it is none of those things.

Nikolai Rostov also faces disillusion. He has imagined nothing but brave action for himself before actually going to war. However, when faced directly with the enemy for the first time, he runs away, almost comically throwing his gun at a Frenchman instead of firing it. He cannot wrap his mind around the idea that the people actually want to kill him. Tolstoy honestly and realistically portrays people's odd reactions to what is a mad, irrational experience; becoming accustomed to combat is a forced, artificial process.

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