Literature Study GuidesWar And PeaceVol 4 Part 3 Chapters 8 15 Summary

War and Peace | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace | Vol. 4, Part 3, Chapters 8–15 | Summary



In Chapter 8 Dolokhov, whose reputation as a brave and cruel fighter precedes him, comes into camp, and Petya tries to hide that he is awestruck. Dolokhov asks Denisov for an update and then mocks him for letting prisoners go. Denisov asks him why he cannot send captured men to town under guard but he simply "smirks" and says he has no time for "niceties."

Dolokhov thinks they need more intelligence about the enemy, so he means to disguise himself as a Frenchman and sneak into their camp. He asks for a volunteer, and Petya begs to go with him. Dolokhov and Petya ride into the French camp (Chapter 9). Dolokhov, bold as brass, avoids giving the password and is soon questioning the French about how many men they have, how many battalions, and how many prisoners. The French are slightly suspicious, but the two of them pull off the ruse. They ride out of camp, and Dolokhov tells Petya to convey the message that "it's set for dawn." Petya is overcome with love for this Russian hero and insists on kissing him, and Dolokhov laughs and then rides away.

Denisov is beside himself worrying about Petya and relieved when he gets back to camp (Chapter 10). Petya is excited about the next day and doesn't get much sleep. Before dawn Denisov and his party get ready to ride out (Chapter 11), and he tells Petya, "listen to me and don't poke your nose anywhere." After a signal is given, the Cossacks and hussars begin riding toward the enemy. Petya, hungry for action, rides toward the gunfire at the manor house in the enemy camp. Shots are coming from the house, and Dolokhov tells his men to go around the back and wait for the infantry. Petya instead gallops toward the shots, and Dolokhov and the Cossacks follow. The French surrender, but not before Petya is shot dead. Denisov is devastated, and this time he refuses to take prisoners.

Chapter 12 moves back in time slightly to October 22 and the Russian prisoners of war. Platon has a bad fever and is growing weaker, and Pierre distances himself from him. More than 100 prisoners have already died, and Pierre ignores the fact that the prisoners who fall behind are shot. He finds himself near Platon when the campfire is struck and asks about his health (Chapter 13). Soon Platon launches into a parable he has told several times before about an innocent man who is unjustly convicted of murder and exonerated after many years, but who then dies before the pardon reaches him. This time the story—in which the victim forgives the true perpetrator and says that all are sinful and he is suffering for his own sins—makes a strong impression on Pierre, and he is filled with joy. Later he sees Platon by a birch tree, with tears in his eyes; Platon calls Pierre over, but Pierre pretends not to see him (Chapter 14). The prisoners begin to move, and the sick Platon is shot. In Chapter 15 Pierre wakes up to gunshots, and the prisoners are rescued by Dolokhov and Denisov.


Denisov and Dolokhov are a study in contrast in these chapters, and something very important happens that is easy to miss: the brutality of war converts Denisov to Dolokhov's point of view. Thus Tolstoy returns to the theme of the immorality of war. Denisov is a moral man who believes that even in war there should be some rules, which is the idea behind such modern institutions as the Geneva Conventions. Since the partisans cannot house prisoners, Denisov sends them under guard, presumably to some place where they can be kept, and Dolokhov makes fun of him for doing so. The rules of war, as evidenced in the novel, are that prisoners are not generally killed by the enemy—and may even be sent to a hospital—as Andrei was sent by the French in Austerlitz.

For the most part, Dolokhov is a cruel and immoral man, albeit a brave soldier and guerilla fighter. He sees no reason to burden himself or Russia with unnecessary enemy prisoners, and he simply kills them, with no worry about tarnishing his honor. That same ruthlessness paired with bravery is evidenced in his visit to the enemy camp pretending to be a Frenchman. Of course, this was something a Russian aristocrat could do, since French was virtually their native language. Dolokhov doesn't think twice about taking the green Petya with him, while Denisov worries about him and is relieved when he returns safely. When Petya, who is playing at war, runs into the line of fire and is killed, Denisov is overcome with grief, because he loves Nikolai Rostov and, by extension, his little brother. His grief turns to anger, and when Dolokhov "walk[s] quickly to the prisoners surrounded by dismounted Cossacks" and says, "We won't take any!" the narrator notes that "Denisov did not reply."

Later, in Chapter 13, the Cossack with Dolokhov is counting the prisoners,"[g]oing on the second hundred," and he says, "Filez, filez," meaning "step lively," as he meets their eyes with a gaze that flashed "a cruel gleam." Denisov is busy burying Petya, but he doesn't say anything, and he knows that Dolokhov plans to execute all of them. Thus he gives his tacit consent. A world so uprooted by war opens the door for even moral people to commit terrible acts, and even more so for people with few scruples. Commonly the few measures agreed upon by military leaders to make the process of killing somewhat regulated, such as sparing the lives of soldiers who have surrendered, are ignored without consequence. Every war without exception has its atrocities, which Tolstoy knew.

The cruel exigencies of war also tell on Pierre, who begins ignoring his friend and spiritual mentor, Platon, because he knows that soon the French will shoot him. Platon's story buoys Pierre, since it is a reminder of how a wise man handles suffering (with both compassion and a lack of emotion). But Pierre cannot show compassion to his friend. In his situation the first priority is survival, and Platon is a liability. He avoids the suffering of interacting with his friend for the last time, by pretending he doesn't see Platon calling him. Grief is Pierre's enemy and can impact his ability to fight for survival; moreover Platon now represents death, which Pierre is trying to avoid. Therefore he puts aside compassion and doesn't think about what happens next.

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