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Quote 4

When everything was ready, the stranger opened his eyes, moved to the table, filled a tumbler with tea for himself and one for the beardless old man to whom he passed it. Pierre began to feel a sense of uneasiness, and the need, even the inevitability, of entering into conversation with this stranger.

In this passage, from Book Five, Chapter 1, Pierre is waiting at the Torzhok station for a connection on his way to St. Petersburg, having just left his wife after discovering she has been cheating on him with his friend. Pierre is bitter and depressed, and as he waits mindlessly he meets a mysterious old man with a strange servant—two figures who, in their dreamlike, almost surreal quality, contrast with the realistic normalcy of most characters in War and Peace. The old man wears a ring with a death’s head on it, and he sits in total Zen-like silence for a long time. His servant appears to have no beard, not because he has recently shaved but because no beard has ever grown. The slightly androgynous, sexless quality of both men inevitably affects Pierre, who has just been punished, in effect, for marrying the wrong woman as a result of sexual passion. The two men may unconsciously represent a freedom from the impulses of sex, and therefore a liberation of the spirit. It is precisely a spiritual rebirth for which Pierre yearns in his present misery. As we see with Pierre always, he seeks spiritual rebirth not through introspection or books alone, but through a connection with people. Consequently, even though these two men make Pierre “uneasy,” he does not avoid them, as Andrew would likely do, but rather feels it inevitable that he will interact with them and gain something from them.

Although the first stranger mentioned appears to be the master of the beardless man who is the servant, it is nevertheless the first man who pours a glass of tea for the beardless man. While the servant later does perform tasks for his master, this initial tea ceremony is somewhat symbolic, creating an environment of social equality. This hint of a leveling of social ranks may unconsciously appeal to Pierre, whose most important influence later in the novel comes not from a tsar, prince, or emperor, but from a simple and humble Russian peasant, Platon Karataev. The two strangers may thus also represent an ideal of a classless society, or at least an ideal of a strong, comradely connection between individuals of different classes.