Dream is Destiny
Today Pierre has another dream. Like his dream after the Battle of Borodino, it blends real events inside its dreamsphere and features a disembodied voice-over narrator. It is worth considering in full.
“Life is everything. Life is God. Everything changes and moves and that movement is God. And while there is life there is joy in consciousness of the divine. To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love this life in one’s sufferings, in innocent sufferings.”
“Karatáev!” came to Pierre’s mind.
And suddenly he saw vividly before him a long-forgotten, kindly old man who had given him geography lessons in Switzerland. “Wait a bit,” said the old man, and showed Pierre a globe. This globe was alive — a vibrating ball without fixed dimensions. Its whole surface consisted of drops closely pressed together, and all these drops moved and changed places, sometimes several of them merging into one, sometimes one dividing into many. Each drop tried to spread out and occupy as much space as possible, but others striving to do the same compressed it, sometimes destroyed it, and sometimes merged with it.
“That is life,” said the old teacher.
“How simple and clear it is,” thought Pierre. “How is it I did not know it before?”
“God is in the midst, and each drop tries to expand so as to reflect Him to the greatest extent. And it grows, merges, disappears from the surface, sinks to the depths, and again emerges. There now, Karatáev has spread out and disappeared. Do you understand, my child?” said the teacher.
Here we have many of the novel’s themes as they relate to Pierre’s story arc: The impenetrable, ever-changing chaos of existence, the confounding nature of unjustified and ceaseless suffering, the presence of an inscrutable yet personal God.
The waking life events following Pierre’s dream confirm the truth of its message. He opens his eyes to the sorrowful terror of captivity. The brutality of man is on display as a French soldier mistreats a Russian prisoner. Then, just like the fluid globe of his dream, Pierre watches his fortune change. Denisov and Dolokhov arrive, liberating the Russians and subjecting the French to imprisonment.
Perhaps the most insightful portion of Pierre’s dream, however, is the narrator’s final question: “Do you understand, my child?”
The answer, of course, is that Pierre can never fully understand. Neither can we. Not really. Our answers must always be aspirational. Cosmically, like the narrator says, we are mere children: Small and uncomprehending, our knowledge a mere conceit, our quiddity a feeble and fugacious morass.
We are weak, watery beings standing in the midst of unrealities; therefore let us turn our minds to the things that are everlasting. Let us look up to the ideal outlines of all things, that flit about on high, and to the God who moves among them and plans how he may defend from death that which he could not make imperishable because its substance forbade, and so by reason may overcome the defects of the body.
Seneca, Epistle LVIII