Little did I realize as I began my journey into Tolstoy’s War and Peace that this very long novel would change my perspective on death. One of the prominent themes in War and Peace is the interconnections between death and re-birth. Many times in the novel we read about death giving way to new life. This new life can be physical or metaphorical. Tolstoy portrays death not as an end to life, but as a path to a new life or a new awareness.
The primary characters encounter death in some form during the novel which always leads to a new life or a new realization. When Andrew’s wife, Lise, dies during childbirth, she brings a new character, Nicholas, into the novel, who grows up to dream of military glory for Russia like his father, Andrew. The death of old Prince Bolkonsky provides a new life for Princess Mary, who for many years lived under his rule. His death awakens in Mary “all the personal desires and hopes that had been forgotten” (636), and she becomes a strong and independent woman. Furthermore, the death of Prince Andrew and Petya creates a profound change in Natasha. This change provides her with the maturity and the experience to be able to marry Pierre and fulfill her destiny as a mother and wife.
Death in War and Peace is not an end, but a revival of life. Pierre, Princes Mary, and Natasha all had to experience the suffering of death before they were able to understand how to live life. Before, I believed death was an end to life, however, I now believe that death is a beginning.