Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 4 Part 1 Chapters 9 13 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 4, Part 1, Chapters 9–13 | Summary



Chapter 9 returns the reader to Moscow and to Pierre, who is interrogated by the French and tried for arson. He answers all the questions truthfully but will not reveal who he is, which doesn't help his case. When he is questioned again, it is by a French officer known for his cruelty (Chapter 10). This time he tells his name and says he's a militia officer who never left town. He also gives the name of the French officer he helped as proof. Pierre makes human contact with the Frenchman when he looks into his eyes. He is then taken with the other prisoners to be executed (Chapter 11). As he watches the men before him get shot, he sees that they cannot believe what's happening to them. He also sees that the men doing the shooting know themselves to be criminals. After the fifth execution, Pierre is separated from the group and left to wait in a ruined church (Chapter 12). He learns he has been pardoned and is taken back to the barracks of the prisoners of war. Pierre is spiritually devastated, his faith in God and goodness destroyed.

In prison Pierre notices a little peasant man who asks him if he's seen a lot of misery and then tells him not to grieve. The peasant, whose name is Platon, gives him some potatoes. He has an odd habit of saying wise proverbs but when asked to repeat them forgets what he said. Pierre learns that Platon experienced some prosperity as a peasant but was convicted of trespassing on someone's land and sent to serve in the army. This turned out to be a blessing for his family because he served in place of his married brother, who had children. Pierre stays with the same prisoners for about a month (Chapter 13). Later Platon is the one he remembers best as "the embodiment of everything Russian, kindly, and round." Pierre is impressed that while Platon seems to have no personal attachments or friendships, he loved "everything that life brought his way, especially other people."


Pierre's time as a prisoner of war is another leg on his spiritual journey. At first he refuses to give anyone his name, thinking it might make things worse for him. But this is unlikely, since the French would be more likely to treat a nobleman with more mercy. Rather it seems as if he is symbolically jettisoning his old identity, which began when he decided to stay in Moscow and first donned the coachman's kaftan. When Pierre comes before the Frenchman who will determine whether he lives or dies, he finally reveals his name and provides sufficient proof that he is not a random arsonist or terrorist. It also helps that he makes eye contact with the man, in which they recognize one another's humanity. No doubt to teach him and the other prisoners a lesson, he is brought out to the field for execution and then pardoned at the last minute. But what he sees shakes him to the core. He watches men murder other men in cold blood, and he sees how the condemned are surprised to die. How does a person live in such a world?

When he gets back to prison and meets Platon, he is exposed to an alternative way of coping with life. Platon is a peasant who has been involuntarily drafted into the army for a minor offense—trespassing beyond the boundaries of the land he belongs to. It was not unusual for serfs to be sent to war involuntarily, and the militias that are raised in the novel use the same system. An aristocrat could send his serfs to war, and a district might be expected to provide a certain number of "souls" to fuel the war effort. Serfs drafted into the army were required to serve 25 years during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, which was a lifetime in those days. If they did not die, they usually never saw home or family again.

Platon is middle–aged, and no doubt he was drafted a long time ago. But he has learned to cope with his suffering through love. Platon is a wise man who is not attached to anyone in particular but who loves everybody and everything equally well. He, too, is the embodiment of the Russian soul and practices the highest form of Christianity. The fact that the exemplary Christian is an enslaved serf who is bound to the land highlights Tolstoy's view that the peasants had something important to teach the aristocrats about what it meant to be a Russian. According to scholar Laura Olson, Platon is the strongest portrait of "the folk" in War and Peace, and the "wandering lost, aristocratic hero finds his true path by way of this unself–conscious peasant." He will pull Pierre back from his emotional brink and help him learn a new way of being in the world.

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