What we’re really getting here in the description of the French army’s flight from Russia is basically a version of Nicholas’s hunting story from the point of view of the wolf. But as bad as it is for the French, it’s nothing compared to the fate that awaited the Germans when that war turned. The misery the German inflicted on Russia was repaid in triple on the German’s. Sad and cruel all around.
Though Tolstoy tells us we must forgive each other and not hate, he hates the French and sees no good in them. Yet shouldn’t the law of averages demand that there be at least a few good French officers who were not selfish and put the good of the troops ahead of their own skin? Tolstoy says no, but we know he’s wrong. The French did an evil thing, each Frenchman was not evil (not all of them, anyway).
Tolstoy follows up his lesson about death with his fantastical image of life represented by the globe of droplets. He is telling us that though we should not fear death we should also enjoy life, and not squander it. And he punctuates this lesson with the image of dead Petya being carried to his grave. This is a very complex image because hadn’t Petya enjoyed himself? Don’t we mourn for him?
Just as Tolstoy has taken us closer to death with each of the novel’s main deaths, we now move away from it with Karataev’s death. Tolstoy has shown us what death is, and that it is not terrible, it is not even something to pity about, it is just another part of life. The death of Petya is mourned by Denisov and Dolokhov is obscure with his emotions, but Pierre just carries on with his life, counting steps.
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” – D.H.Lawrence
The dog, though living among misery for men, is a feast for him. Walking on three legs and gorging himself all day on the dead. One man’s famine is another’s bounty. It’s all relative. This is what Karataev’s story of the wrongly accused merchant is about.
Now I understand why Pierre stayed away from Karataev even though his friend was dying. The explanation is in how we learn about Pierre’s feet. At first he didn’t think he’d be able to walk on them but each day he found the strength, but each day they looked worse and worse until he stopped looking or even thinking about them. Why worry about suffering? And this is why he avoids his dying friend.