“Platosha” (Platon Karataev) appears in about ten pages of
War and Peace. In his first of many ironies: despite his brief appearance, Platosha expresses some of the most profound wisdom in a book of wisdom.
Platosha is a Russian soldier. He is prisoner-of-war of the French. It is winter, War of 1812. Because it’s Russia, the winter is bitter. This bitterness Platosha shares with his French captors. They retreat westward, through snow, ice, muck. and bitter cold.
Platosha is not young. But a private in rank, Platosha has been in the army most of his life. He had been a serf. Platosha had violated a trivial farm rule. As punishment, he had been conscripted.
Platosha is a simple man with a simple Christian faith. He talks continually. He makes little sense. But, occasionally, a pearl of wisdom rolls from Platosha’s tongue. Thus, Platosha is– in Russian vernacular– a “Holy Fool”.
Platosha is the only associate of fellow-prisoner, Russian noble Pierre Bezukhov. Pierre can be called an accidental-noble, bastard-son of a late count. Pierre– as one might expect, given his context– is preoccupied by searches for meaning. Pierre seeks meaning in society, in life, in himself .
Pierre’s searches are not disappointed by Platosha’s occasional pearls:
“We thought it was grief, but it was joy!”, Platosha says of his conscription. “If it wasn’t for my sin, my brother would have had to go. And my…brother had four children” while Platosha had none surviving.
“How can you not be sad, looking at that?” Platosha refers to “the mother of cities”, Moscow, as destroyed by French arson. Platosha does not mention his own suffering at the hands of the French. This is Platosha’s answer to Pierre’s question, “Is it sad for you here?”
“There’s no safety from the beggar’s sack or the prison’s bars”.
“You suffer an hour, you live an age!”
Pierre’s search also finds satisfaction in Platosha’s character:
“Karataev had no attachments, friendships, or love, as Pierre understood them; but he loved and lived lovingly with everything that life brought his way, especially other people– not any specific people, but those who were there before his eyes. He loved…his comrades, the French, he loved Pierre…but Pierre sensed that, despite all his gentle tenderness…Karataev would not have been upset for a moment to be parted from him…”
And, so, “Pierre…felt that the…world was now arising in his soul with a new beauty, on some new and unshakeable foundations”.
Noble Pierre’s life, his soul– corrupted by war– are redeemed by the serf and private-soldier Platosha.
Wisdom gained through the privation and hostility of forced-march in worst winter crowned Pierre’s redemption:
“Pierre…learned a new and…comforting truth– he…learned there is nothing frightening in the world. He had learned that, as there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree. He had learned that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that those limits are very close…”
War and Peace
Count Lev Tolstoy
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
© 2007 Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky