Tomorrow Never Knows
One of the literary techniques employed in War and Peace that I’m picking up on this time around is how Tolstoy will often take a topic — say, social life or grief — and present two responses to that topic from two different characters within the same chapter. Today the topic is impulsivity.
By now we’re well aware of Nikolai Rostov’s problems with impulsivity. We’ve spent the last few chapters watching him ruin his life because of his inability to tame it. In today’s chapter, then, he is tasked with asking his father for the money he lost to Dolokhov. It’s not an easy task. In fact, he blunders through it entirely. This isn’t to say that he fails to ask for the money. Rather, he asks for it in a childish and impetuous manner as if what he has done is really no thing at all. It’s quite disgraceful. But he just can’t contain his impulsive instinct to play the innocent. He does, however, realize his errors because he breaks out into sobs and begs his father forgiveness.
Across the house Natasha deals with her own problems of impulsivity. Hers, however, being of a more innocent nature, are more easily forgiven. What we’ve seen in Natasha over the course of the novel so far is her desire for maturity. It’s clear that she yearns for womanhood and, yet, at the same time, she seems as if she can’t escape some of her childish ways. Today, for instance, when Denisov proposes marriage to her she cannot assume the adult role and deal with his ill-advised proposal herself. Instead, she resorts to her mother. As the novel progresses we’ll see more and more how Natasha, at least for now, struggles to abandon her childish ways on her path towards adulthood.
It’s clear that both Natasha and Nikolai seek reform. They both would like to be less impulsive. The problem, a problem shared by everyone, is that more often or not this reform is put off until a later date. I’m sure that’s a familiar refrain for readers. It certainly is for me. Sure: we’d like to lose weight. But, maybe just for today, we can eat that chocolate cake. We’ll start our diet tomorrow. But the problem with putting things off until tomorrow is that tomorrow never arrives. It’s always, to paraphrase a hero of my childhood, a day away. So too, then, is the project of reform.
When you relax your attention for a while, do not fancy that you will recover it whenever you please; but remember this, that because of your fault of today your affairs must necessarily be in a worse condition on future occasions.
Epictetus, The Discourses