Here we’re shown through Prince Andrei how ones perception changes given the circumstances, even very minor ones. True, Andrei is sensitive to these things, but we’re all susceptible to these shift of emotion, be it the smile of a pretty girl that suddenly cheers you up, or a perceived slight from your boss who doesn’t notice your hard work. Andrei internalizes, Rostov externalizes. Both are self-centered.
We also get a narrative shift where Tolstoy (as narrator) talks about how just beyond an imaginary line on the battle field lies danger, and beyond another lies peace and safety. And Rostov looks up at the sky and this narrations talks about crossing that line of death we must all pass. But it’s a line we can’t actually see, though we know it’s there. This chapter is about seeing and about preservation.
Who hasn’t imagined what Rostov imagines? That everything revolves around them, that the people around you are actually paying attention to you and not to just themselves? Tolstoy shows us the soldiers looking at each other as the cannon flies over to see how the men react to this danger. Everyone is trying to see how everyone is seeing them, but nobody is looking. Everyone is just trying to stay alive.
We see the troops as a somewhat disorganized and emotional herd, their sexualized banter towards the German girls revealing how base they, and war is. There is also a bit of class jealousy between the fine Hussars and the infantry – infantry being conscripted serfs mostly – yet the infantry men are not shy to poke a little fun at their “betters”, and you feel see the smug superiority of the Hussars. Snapshot
Notice how Tolstoy uses distance and perspective in this chapter – the diagonal rain, the nunnery in the distance, the enemy beyond that. When they shoot the cannons he describes the smoke as milky white, then we hear the sound. When the Russian playfully fire their cannon, the ball flies over the heads of the troops and lands in a little cloud of smoke. The perspective follows Rostov’s perspective shift too
A person’s personal honor is not bigger than the group’s, and it’s not honor anyway if you’re being stubborn. Even Rostov says he can’t describe the feeling even though everyone else recognizes it as being obstinate. And the chapter ends with news they will actually go into battle instead of dealing with these trivial matters – the war is bigger than them all – but what’s bigger than the war? Tolstoy knows.