“Platosha” (nickname of Platon Karataev) appears in about ten of the hundreds of pages comprising War and Peace, Count Lev Tolstoy.
Yet, despite the relative-brevity of his appearance, Platosha is the essence of some of the most eloquent wisdom in the book, wisdom able to change our lives, change our outlook, for the better.
Platosha is a Russian soldier. He is prisoner-of-war of the French. It is winter during The War of 1812. Because it’s Russia, the winter is bitter. This bitterness Platosha experiences just as his French captors, who are walking-westward in retreat. Platosha is not young. But a private in rank, Platosha has been in the army most of his life. He volunteered when young to replace– to save the life of– a fellow young serf who had been drafted.
Platosha is a picture of irony.
He is a simple man with a simple Christian faith. Platosha talks continually. His speech makes little sense. But, occasionally, a pearl of wisdom rolls from Platosha’s tongue:
- “You suffer an hour, you live an age!”
- “There’s no safety from the beggar’s sack or the prison’s bars”.
Platosha is the only friend 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– seeks a meaning in life, meaning in society. Pierre’s search finds satisfaction in Platosha:
- Pierre characterizes Platosha as having no “attachments, friendships, or love, as Pierre understood them; but he loved and lived lovingly with everything that life brought his way, especially…people…there before his eyes. He loved his mutt, his comrades, the French, he loved Pierre, who was his neighbor; but Pierre sensed that, despite all his gentle tenderness towards him…Karataev would not have been upset for a moment to be parted from him”.
- During Pierre’s association with Platosha, “Pierre learned a new…comforting truth– he had learned that
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.”
As for Platosha: do his faith and good nature– as almost inevitably in the plot of any story– secure him a pleasant destiny? Do Platosha’s great virtues– as almost inevitably in the plot of any story– spare him unpleasantry? You be the judge: Platosha dies lonesome, in an icy roadside puddle, a French musket-ball in his brain.
Finally! A hero whose virtues and faith do not guarantee a reward. A hero who shares our reality. A hero– despite faith and virtue– with whom we share what is, in fact, an uncertain destiny. And we find we share unpleasantry, and that unpleasantry is not an aberration. Rather, we learn, our affliction with unpleasantry is the natural order. And this is regardless of virtue or faith, be they present or absent.
War and Peace
Count Lev Tolstoy
Richard Pevear and
New York, New York