The Bolkonsky family is crucial to Tolstoy’s war and peace. The narrative is bookended by Lord Bolkonsky and his grandson, who, like a wandering Telemachus, dreams of his father- a subtle allusion to the December revolution of 1825. Between these two are the tales of Andrei and Marya, the stories of wars fought for peace and the ones about prolonged intermissions of peace trying hard to resist the temptations of chaotic wars.
When we first meet him, Prince Andrei is an agnostic, nihilistic and a little cynical young man looking for a distraction in a career that’d bring him glory and fame. He was the best of his lot. Yet he was unhappy and unsettled. His purpose in life was decided by his reason. But when he falls at the Battle of Austerlitz, and realizes the vanity of all the things that he pursued relentlessly, against the humbling vastness of the sky, life instinct is awakened in him once again.
Andrei’s peak experience is sustained by Natasha. In her vivaciousness is the unruly chaos of nature. He became the order to her chaos. They shaped each other. However their happiness and love was conditional then and both of them ended up declaring the dissolution of their engagement, setting the other free. In letting go, they were unaware that the chaos and the order between them were beginning to coexist with a bit of the other in themselves, like the yin and the yang.
The next time Andrei goes to war, his motives are different. His phenomenological realms have expanded with experiences. He learns to forgive- himself as well as others. He grows beyond his egoism when he finally acknowledges how awakening death can be. His death is also symbolic. For through his death people around him come alive.
In the beginning, Marya is introduced as a woman, constantly overshadowed by the people around her. She is a beautiful, fragile wall flower. Yet through her journey she encounters betrayal, death of loved ones and huge responsibilities. Somewhere in time she becomes her own woman. She blooms in love. She forged peace through sorrow. She accomplishes it through faith and forgiveness.
Marya learns to open up and be vulnerable in time. She comes alive and fully into her own person with Natasha’s rebuke when they first meet as well as through Nikolai’s love. She lives up to her ideals and strong sense of morality. Upon the death of her brother, (which actually began the moment the foundation of his ideals were shaken) Marya individuates into a conscience built upon a universal, post conventional sense of morality.
It’s rather interesting to note how the three major pairs of siblings in the story roughly corresponds to the Freudian structure of personality. The Bolkonskys, with their strong sense of morality and idealism allude to the super ego. The Kuragins are characterized by their impulsivity and extravagant, often unruly, indulgences very much characteristic of the Id and The Rostovs are a middle ground surviving all odds, performing the balancing act, pretty much like the Ego. In this way, the story of these siblings, in the grander view, ends up as a tale of maturation.