HomeLiterature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 3 Part 2 Chapters 33 39 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 3, Part 2, Chapters 33–39 | Summary



The narrator explains that the main action of the battle takes place in a small area in which each side fires cannons, followed by men charging, and most of the damage is inflicted by cannonballs and bullets (Chapter 33). The French emperor is too far away from the action to see what is going on, and neither his nor his generals' instructions are carried out. Napoleon is surprised that his usual tactics are not stemming the tide of "a continuous slaughter" in which his generals keep calling for reinforcements (Chapter 34). By contrast the narrator says in Chapter 35 that after many years of experience, Kutuzov knew that a battle is won or lost according to the spirit of the troops.

Prince Andrei's regiment is in the reserves, but even so they have already lost 200 men simply from standing and waiting to go into battle (Chapter 36). A shell falls near Andrei, and when the adjutant yells for him to "Get down!" he hesitates, afraid of appearing cowardly, and gets a wound in the abdomen as a result. When the prince is brought to the medical tent, he experiences bliss in remembering his childhood (Chapter 37). Next to him is a sobbing man whose leg has been amputated, and Andrei recognizes Anatole Kuragin. He cannot immediately remember his connection to Anatole but recalls Natasha at her first ball and how much he loves her. When he turns to Anatole again, his entire memory returns, but all he can feel for him is that same love and pity. Andrei weeps for everyone's errors.

In Chapters 38 Napoleon surveys the battlefield "covered with corpses and the wounded." For a moment Napoleon feels something like remorse. But the French emperor cannot renounce his actions. Tolstoy calls Napoleon "executioner of the peoples" and quotes from Napoleon's memoir to show how proud he is that, of the "hundreds and thousands of men who perished, there were fewer Frenchmen than Hessians and Bavarians."

In Chapter 39 Tolstoy further describes the blood-soaked field of action as "[s]mall clouds gathered and rain began to sprinkle on the dead, the wounded, the frightened, and on the exhausted, and on the doubtful men. It was as if it were saying: 'Enough, enough, men. Stop now ... Come to your senses.'" The Battle of Borodino is a military victory for the French, but for the Russians it is a moral victory, the narrator says, convincing the enemy of his own impotence. The battle results in the French march to Moscow and their eventual retreat down the same road, along with the destruction of their army.


Tolstoy contrasts the attitudes of the two generals—Napoleon and Kutuzov—to show that one is a self-satisfied megalomaniac, while the other is a servant-leader. Napoleon is surprised that his usual tactics aren't working and is blindsided by the mounting casualties. As Tolstoy has already pointed out earlier, the tactics he is so proud of make no difference, since none of his directions are followed once the war begins. Kutuzov, on the other hand, knows that he is more like a guide than a leader, and that the outcome of the war is determined by the spirit of the people who actually fight it.

Prince Andrei's misguided notion of heroism leads to what turns out to be a mortal wound. When the shell hits the ground, it doesn't explode immediately. Why doesn't he get down? How could it be cowardly to avoid an exploding shell? While he thinks about the shell, he remembers that he loves life, but then he remembers that the troops are watching him, and as a leader of men he has to set an example by not flinching. But why die for no reason? Perhaps Andrei has come to the end of his rope, and with no way to dispel his dark thoughts, he cannot help but walk toward death. Or perhaps in the end, he is still chasing a dream of glory in which he will be remembered for his brave action when a shell fell next to him.

Right before Andrei fell asleep the previous night, he thought of his hatred for Anatole and how he had still not avenged himself. But being on the brink of death brings Andrei back to the wise place inside himself, where he knows that, in spite of its terrible pain and hardships, life is beautiful, and that the only answer to the sufferings of life is to embrace them fully with love and compassion. When he turns to see his nemesis suffering, Andrei is suffused with loving-kindness toward fellow beings, and he cannot help but love even his enemy Anatole. This is the Christianity that Marya has been trying to teach her brother.

In the final chapters of Part 2, Tolstoy returns to the villainy of Napoleon, whom he imagines as momentarily experiencing sorrow for the carnage he has set in motion. But the author uses the famous French emperor's own words against him to prove that he is the epitome of both conscious and unconscious evil. Napoleon is portrayed as a mass murderer—an executioner of the peoples. He is proud that more people of other nationalities died than did Frenchmen. He brags that the battlefield was magnificent—all those bodies. Napoleon represents the worship of mayhem and death in a leader who, in a bid for immortality, steps over countless corpses, convinced that his glory is worth more than their lives, whereas, as Tolstoy repeatedly shows, every person has a full life of his own and an independent, meaningful existence.

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