One of the primary themes Leo Tolstoy explores in War and Peace is what it means to become an adult. In the first book, we meet Natasha and Pierre, two main characters that grow from naïve children to mature adults over the course of the novel. Tolstoy believes that growing up occurs primarily through surviving the hard times life inevitably hands you and that these times mold you into the person you are destined to become. To Tolstoy, growing up occurs not because of your individual choices, but because of the uncontrollable force of history on each person’s life.
Tolstoy feels the great force of history affects every individual life and that no one can escape this force. The reader sees this especially with Natasha, as the war deeply influences when she finally grows up. The war kills both her lover, Andrew, and her brother, Petya. These combined experiences become her defining moment, and the moment she becomes a woman. Tolstoy shows the effect history has on individuals with Pierre, too; Pierre becomes a man when the French irrationally and unjustly imprison him. Thus, while individual choices and events certainly do shape you, Tolstoy asserts that the larger forces in the universe have more power than any individual ever could.