I always struggle with the coincidences in the novel. On the one hand they are convenient to keep the story going, on the other hand coincidences do happen in real life so why not in art, too? And since Tolstoy has set up change (I talked about movement previously with Pierre and the duel), it makes sense here as art to bring Andrei “back from the dead” during a spring storm as his wife is about to birth.
Family. Every scene in the book is centered around the family. No character exists outside of their family, be it the traditional family like the Rostov’s, the eccentric family as with the Bolkonsky’s, the failed family as with Pierre, or even the family of Dolokhov. And though Tolstoy favors the Rostov’s as the ideal family, he shows us the loving differences in all families and how they all make up Russia
Is Hélène clever enough to have manipulated Pierre into a frenzy and also been clever enough to know he would regret it and give her whatever she wanted? Hélène is described as being an expert in social affairs, and her father is a master manipulator so it’s not out of the question Pierre was played hard “from all sides” as Kuzmich sai earlier. Pierre feels he is ” like a hare surrounded by hounds.”
The way Tolstoy stages the duel is very cinematic, as is all his action imagery. Here he uses the mist as a waypoint for us to sense the movement of the duelists as they near each other in the snow. Movement is very important here, not only physically, but also emotionally as Dolokhov is humiliated in defeat, and Pierre is humiliated in victory. This will change Pierre’s life and set him on the better path
If this were Dostoevsky the story would now shift to an empathetic study of the misunderstood Dolokhov and how it was we all along who had misunderstood this seemingly cold sociopath. But Tolstoy is more nuanced that that – Dolokhov, though a complicated figure, is not let off the hook so easily. He does not ask us to forgive Dolokhov, he only shows us complicated people are – what we think is up to us.
We finally came back around to Pierre. We see how his life has been nothing but miserable since becoming one of the wealthiest men in Russia. He has not learned how to put his life in order. And he knows this at some level and his rashness with this duel is an attempt at him to have some control in life. Yet there really isn’t any proof that Dolokhov is guilty and so Pierre is unsure.