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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Is Pierre heroic?

Pierre, having suffered, having passed through suffering, by section 4 volume 4, is a better man - but how so? He has always been a sympathetic and appealing character, hurtful to no one, earnest in his seeking for truth and wisdom, thoughtful about the fate of his friends (he pulls Andrei out of his depression after the death of his, Andrei's, wife, "the little princess"), and wronged by his own fate (his mismarriage to Helene). But now, toward the end of War and Peace, Tolstoy portrays Pierre as more calm and self-assured, more liked by others (it wasn't clear that others didn't like him, though he was perhaps to brash and distracted, ADD we might say today). Pierre comes to yet another great realization: that he had been looking everywhere for God (through a spyglass, in another Tolstoy metaphor, suddenly springing up all over the place), when in fact God was at his feet, that is, God is everywhere. He wakes from the sufferings of his imprisonment and forced march, is treated by doctors (and nevertheless survives, as Tolstoy amusingly puts it), and wakes each day thankful for his warm bed, glad he won't be forced to march again. But what exactly makes him "better"? I'm not saying he had to become a revolutionary or political radical, but after all this - he's still very comfortable, wealthy, waited on by many servants. Tolstoy speaks of his generosity to others, including a very nice artist who comes to visit, but does he have any insight into the structure of his society, into how others suffer and still suffer and will always suffer while he lives in privilege? Tolstoy himself came to realize that, but Pierre, though a grand character, never rises beyond his station, never becomes truly heroic.

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