Natasha and Princess Marya support each other as they mourn Prince Andrei’s death. Natasha is about to move back to Moscow with Princess Marya when they get a letter telling them that Pyotr has died too.
Countess Rostov is hysterical when she finds out her youngest son is dead.
The loss of her son takes a major toll on Countess Rostov’s health and Natasha nurses her. Oddly, Pyotr’s death has a positive effect on Natasha. Caring for her mother rejuvenates her, and she develops a close friendship with Princess Marya.
Kutuzov slows down his pursuit of the French to allow his troops to rest. Tolstoy argues that it’s unfair that Napoleon is remembered as a hero and Kutuzov as a “feeble old courtier” (1084).
Tolstoy continues to argue that Kutuzov is under-appreciated.
Kutuzov prepares the troops for one last battle at Krasnoe. He is unhappy with the conditions that his own men and the French prisoners of war must live in.
The soldiers set up camp and prepare for the battle.
Several foot soldiers bicker as they prepare their food.
Two French soldiers approach the company and ask to surrender themselves because they are dying of exposure to the cold. As it turns out, they are Captain Ramballe and his orderly. The orderly entertains the Russians by teaching them some songs.
Kutuzov’s troops cross the Berezina River and destroy the French army. Kutuzov is awarded the Order of St. George, Russia’s highest military honor.
Despite the award, the tsar is displeased with Kutuzov because he wants the Russian army to keep pursuing the French past Poland. Kutuzov wants to stop because the French have already surrendered. Kutuzov dies shortly thereafter.
Pierre finally learns of his wife’s death, as well as that of Prince Andrei. He becomes ill, but recovers. He begins to realize that the meaning of life is not something one must search for; rather, it lies in faith in God.
Pierre recuperates from his ordeal in the Russian city of Orel. His new outlook on life wins him many friends. The Moscow fire has unfortunately cost Pierre much of his fortune. Although there is a way for him to save himself financially by ignoring Hélène’s debts and giving up his estates in Moscow, Pierre chooses not to.
As people return, Moscow begins to revive.
Pierre arrives in Moscow, where many people are glad to see him. Soon thereafter, he visits Princess Marya to express his sympathy about her brother’s death. Natasha is there when he arrives, although he does not recognize her at first because her former joy in life has been replaced with “[sad] questioning” (1112). It is clear to everyone that Pierre still loves her.
Pierre, Natasha, and Marya discuss the deaths of Pyotr and Prince Andrei. Natasha confides in Pierre about her suffering.
Pierre tells the story of his captivity to Natasha and Marya, emphasizing the moral lessons he learned from the experience. As they prepare for bed, Natasha and Marya talk about how much they like Pierre.
Princess Marya agrees to help Pierre propose marriage to Natasha.
Pierre is overjoyed at the prospect of marrying Natasha.
Natasha returns Pierre’s feelings of supreme, selfless love, and they agree to marry.
In the previous section, Tolstoy explored how different people experience war. In the novel’s final chapters, he does the same thing for the way different characters experience loss. Grief brings out the worst in some characters. For example, Countess Rostov becomes hysterical and unable to function when she learns of Pyotr’s death. When Prince Andrei dies, Count Rostov appears to mourn, but is really thinking mostly of his own death.
However, death also draws out some of the characters’ best qualities. Natasha becomes a mature, thoughtful young woman after seeing this darker side of life. Caring for her mother in the wake of Pyotr’s death gives her a solemnity that she could not otherwise have acquired. Tolstoy suggests that these qualities complement Natasha’s previous cheerfulness. If she was happy but flawed before, now she is the embodiment of Tolstoy’s ideal woman (and Pierre’s too). In some ways, she has remained a bastion of simplicity; the difference is that her simplicity is now grounded by the real world and its demands. While this is certainly lamentable in some ways, it is also to be expected; at some point, we must confront the world we live in.
Similarly, Prince Andrei’s death seems to jolt his sister, Princess Marya, out of her spiritual aloofness. As he dies, he advises her to marry Nikolai Rostov. Andrei’s concern for his sister’s happiness in life (even as he is dying) seems to convince her that spiritual purity isn’t the only measure of a person’s contentment and worth. Her growth is a reflection of Natasha's. Marya must learn to allow some material desires into her life. She has spent her life denying herself anything material in pursuit of a completely spiritual existence, at great cost, particularly the cost of her own happiness. After she accepts her brother's final request, she helps to broker Natasha’s marriage to Pierre because she realizes that worldly happiness is better than ascetic mourning. Marya’s decision to help Natasha and Pierre also paves the way for her own marriage to Nikolai Rostov.
Tolstoy interrupts the section’s main plot to describe the last weeks of the French retreat and Kutuzov’s death. On the surface, these chapters don’t seem to have much in common with the rest of the section. However, they complement the section’s broader theme, which is the effects of death and change. Kutuzov’s death parallels the more intimate, and emotionally wrenching, deaths of Andrei and Pyotr. On a broader scale, the French retreat marks the end of an especially terrible and dramatic period in Russian history.
The brief sequence in Chapter 14, when Tolstoy describes how Moscow comes back to life after the French retreat, parallels the ultimate message of the chapter. Just as Moscow is literally destroyed and pillaged, Natasha, Marya, and the other characters are emotionally devastated by their material and immaterial losses. But like their city, they make an improbable comeback and are stronger than ever before. There is a wonderful optimism when one considers this as the end of the proper novel. Tolstoy employed much cynicism even before the military sections made that pessimism explicit, and he never gives any indication that mankind as a whole will change. However, by continuing to search until we learn that the truth lies in simplicity, we might find a realistic, mature, sustainable happiness as do some of these characters.
Finally, a last note is worth mentioning about the historical nature of the novel. Kutuzov is a controversial figure in Russian history, and would have been more so in Tolstoy's time. His defense of the old man is less literary than political, as it requires him to take a side on a popular controversy. It is sometimes easy to forget that this novel is indeed fiction and that the virtues attributed to Kutuzov are of Tolstoy's creation, even though he claimed to have researched all of his real-world characterizations.