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The novel is dealt at two levels: war and peace. Thus, it would be appropriate to point out the protagonists in each of them. The protagonist in war is Emperor Aleksandr who encourages his soldiers to fight against the invaders and drive them away from the Russian soil. In peace, the protagonist is Pierre Bezukhov, the son of the wealthy Count Bezukhov.
Pierre rises from the shadow of illegitimacy to become an eligible bachelor who marries Princess Ellen. However, Ellen’s flirtatious behavior distresses him and he gets disillusioned with his married life. For moral support, he turns to the fold of Free Masons. When that doesn’t help, he marches to the battlefield to witness action. Later, he becomes a prisoner of war.
During war, Napoleon is the antagonist who betrays the trust of Aleksandr and invades Russia. After a victorious battle at Smolensk, he enters Russia and conquers it.
At home, Ellen is Pierre’s antagonist. She proves unfaithful to him and hurts his ego by flirting with other men but remains his wife for her own benefit. However, when she gets attracted to more wealthy and influential men, she asks Pierre for a divorce. Ellen uses and discards Pierre.
Napoleon marches into Moscow and his soldiers ravage the beautiful city. The Tsar feels insulted and inspires his soldiers to raise against the French. Thus, the Russian soldiers, under the command of their Generals, stage guerilla warfare and defeat their enemy.
Pierre runs away from home and takes shelter in the house of his late benefactor in Moscow. Later, he is taken prisoner. Ellen feels frustrated, as she is unable to marry the man she desires. Thus, helpless, she falls ill and dies.
Napoleon and his troops take to their heels and escape out of the Russian soil. After a few years, Aleksandr rallies his allies to fight against Napoleon. He succeeds in his attempt and Napoleon is sent away to the island of Elba.
Pierre returns back home from the battlefield, chastened and enlightened. He rebuilds his house in Moscow and proposes to Natasha. Shortly afterwards, he marries Natasha and settles down to a life of peace and contentment.