God Sees Truths but Waits
By Leo Tolstoy
People in the story:
- Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov
- Makar Semyonov
- Aksyonov’s Merchant Friend
- Aksyonov’s Wife
- The Governor
- The District Police Inspector
‘God Sees the Truth but Waits’ is a short story written by Leo Tolstoy. It is about the false conviction and imprisonment of a man for a murder he did not commit, and it takes the form of a parable, spiritual lesson, for forgiveness.
The protagonist of Leo Tolstoy’s short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits” is a carefree young man named Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov. The fact that he is, at the beginning of the story, so carefree should serve as fair warning that he will not be this way long. We are further warned of storm clouds on the horizon of Aksionov’s life when his wife — also young, also beautiful, but more aware of life’s uncertainties — tells him she has had a bad dream about him, and asks him not to go to the Nizhny Fair, where he plans to sell his wares. He laughs at her and goes anyway. But we know, from these first seven paragraphs of Tolstoy’s little tale, that things will not go well with Aksionov from that moment on.
Disaster doesn’t surface immediately. Halfway to the fair, Aksionov stops at an inn for the night and winds up sharing a cup of tea with another merchant whom he knows slightly. The two merchants go to bed in adjoining rooms. In the morning Aksionov gets up, pays his bill, and gets back on the road. But twenty-five miles later he is overtaken by soldiers, who question him about his activities the previous night. Aksionov finally asks him why they are treating him as if he’s committed a crime, and he is informed that the merchant with whom he spent the previous evening has been found murdered and his goods plundered. When the soldiers search Aksionov’s bags, they find a bloody knife. Predictably, Aksionov is arrested, tried, and convicted of murder. His wife is able to see him one time before he is exiled to Siberia; after rousing herself from a dead faint at the sight of him in shackles and chains, she asks him whatever possessed him to murder the stranger on the way to the fair. His own wife doesn’t believe he is innocent.
In Siberia, Aksionov is such a model prisoner that the other convicts call him “The Saint,” and come to him with their problems and disputes. His life is hard but bearable until a new prisoner, Makar Semyonich, comes into the camp twenty-six years later. Aksionov learns that the new man comes from the same home town as Aksionov himself. Makar Semyonich knows Aksionov’s sons well; they are rich and successful merchants, even though it is said their father is a convict in Siberia. That is the good news. The bad news is that Makar Semyonich reveals himself to be none other than the true perpetrator of the crime for which Aksionov is now serving a life sentence.
Aksionov is now torn by conflict. Here is the man responsible for Aksionov’s twenty-six years of misery! Yet what good would come from revealing him to be the murderer now? The conflict is made even more acute when Makar Semyonich attempts to tunnel out of prison and his tunnel is discovered. The prisoners are assembled and asked to reveal who had dug the hole. This is the perfect opportunity for Aksionov to have his revenge on Makar Semyonich – but he cannot do it. Again, what would be gained? The damage to Aksionov’s life has already been done, and no good can come of making someone else’s life worse.
In private that evening, Makar Semyonich comes to Aksionov and begs his forgiveness. “When they flogged me with the knout it was not so hard to bear as it is to see you now…yet you had pity on me, and did not tell. For Christ’s sake forgive me, wretch that I am!” But Aksionov says that forgiveness is not his to give, but God’s, and “God will forgive you….Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you.”
Understanding the text
- What bad habits did Aksionov have before his marriage?
Aksionov was a very handsome and jovial person who used to seek his happiness. Before marriage, he had very bad habits of drinking alcohol and involving in fights. He used to drink much and become riotous.
- What can be the meaning of his wife’s dream?
The meaning of his wife dream can be a sign of bad omen. In her dream, she had seen her husband returning his town with grey hair. She became quite afraid of her husband. She supposed the dream as a sign of evil.
- Why did Aksionov think of killing himself?
Aksionov thought of killing himself because he remembered all those harsh situations which he had faced in his life without committing any crime. He remembered his torture, the people around him while he was in chains, the convicts, twenty-six years of imprisonment, his premature old age etc. All these painful thoughts made him so wretched that he was ready to kill himself.
- Why did Makar disclose that he had killed the merchant?
Makar disclosed that he had killed the merchant because he felt ashamed of himself. He felt pity over Aksionov. Aksionov saved Makar from the governor though he was a victim of Makar’s crime. The act of Aksionov made Makar feel ashamed and disclose his crime.
- Why doesn’t Aksionov wish to return to his family at the end of the story?
Aksionov doesn’t wish to return his family at the end of the story because he has become quite Old. He has spent his entire life in prison without committing any crime. He is feeble too at this age. He desires to die in the prison instead of going to his family.
Reference to the context
- “Well, old man,”repeated the Governor, “tell me the truth: who has been digging under the wall?”
- Who is that old man?
That old man is Aksionov who has spent his twenty-six years in prison.
- Which truth is the speaker asking about?
That old man is Aksionov who has spent his twenty-six years in prison.
- Which wall does the speaker mean?
The speaker means the prison’s wall.
- Describe Aksionov’s character.
Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov was a young wealthy merchant in the town of Vladimir in Russia. He had two shops and a house. He was a handsome man with fair-curly hair. He was full of fun and very fond of singing. He used to drink much before marriage but later on, he changed himself and became a good man. He had virtuous qualities such as faith, forgiveness, freedom and acceptance. He was accused of murdering a fellow merchant and robbing him. He suffered a lot in prison and spent his twenty-six years waiting for God’s judgement. He was also mentally strong because he was able to endure many unfortunate events, such as losing his home and his business. Finally, he displayed a strong religious devotion by growing closer to God during difficult times. He was a truthful man, holding his peace till the end but circumstances changed his fate and he died in prison at last.
- What is the theme of the story?
We find various themes here in this story “God Sees the Truth, but Waits“. The major themes in the story are guilt, forgiveness, faith, conflict, freedom and acceptance. The story has presented all these themes. Among these themes, forgiveness is one of the greatest themes. Here, we find forgiveness of Aksionov for Makar Semyonich. Although Aksionov has spent his twenty-six years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, he is able to forgive Makar who committed the crime. This story has shown the best form of revenge which is forgiveness.
- Which symbols are used in the story and what do they indicate?
We find the use of many symbols here in this story. Following are the symbols used in the Story:
- House and Shops: House and shops symbolize the earthly material possession which doesn’t favour anyone and remain forever. Aksinonov doesn’t get the support of his possession till the end.
- Nightmare (grey hair): The terrible dream of Aksionov’s wife symbolizes the terrible fate of Aksionov. The story has presented the bad results of the nightmare. The grey hair in the dream turns out to be real in Aksionov’s life.
- The prison: The prison itself is a symbol of Aksionov’s suffering and his eventual spiritual transformation. Prison is the place where he finds pains, tortures and even spiritual transformation.
- Book (The Lives of the Saints): This is the symbol of religious transformation within Aksionov Due to this book Aksionov devotes his life towards God and keeps faith till the end.
Reference beyond the text
- What role does religion play in Aksionov’s life? How does he undergo a spiritual transformation in the story?
Religion plays a very vital role in Aksionov’s life. He has spent his whole life in Siberian prison expecting for the right judgement of God. After being suspected by his wife, he gives up all his hopes and tells himself that God only knows the truth. For twenty-six years as a convict in Siberia, he grows older. In prison, Aksionov works hard and learns to make boots. He earns a little money with which he buys the book ‘The Lives of the Saints’. He devotes his life in the name of religion being much faithful on God. He starts reading and singing this book in the prison’s church on Sundays. He realizes about various aspects of life, fate in connection with the religion. The prison authorities even like him for his meekness. His fellow-prisoners respect him and call him “Grandfather” or “The Saint.” He knows about fate, spirituality, God’s devotion, righteous path, acceptance, forgiveness etc. He keeps on showing his truthfulness. He meets the real murderer of the merchant but remains silent. He even saves the convict from the governor. He gets self-realization and forgives Makar at the end. Aksionov realizes that forgiveness is the path to peace. He obtains peace at last and dies. In this way, we find him and his life-transforming from materialism to spiritualism only because of religion.
- What does the story tell us about the existence of unfair system of justice?
The story tells us about the existence of an unfair system of justice through the main protagonist’s incident of life. Here in this story, a good and innocent man is wrongly imprisoned on a charge of murder, punished for 26 years and made to lose everything and his entire life for no fault or crime of his own, but only based on evidence. He suffers a lot entire his life but get self-realization and dies peacefully at last.
- Why did Aksionov’s wife stop him from going to the fair?
Aksionov’s wife had a bad dream about him. So she feared and tried to stop him from going to the fair.
- What is the importance of Aksionov’s wife’s dream?
Aksionov’s wife told him that she had a bad dream. She dreamt that Aksionov had returned from the town with grey hair. But Aksionov was fair-haired. Grey hair is a symbol of bad omen. This was the importance of Aksionov’s wife’s dream.
- What made Aksionov leave the inn before dawn?
It was not Aksionov’s habit to sleep late night. He always wished to travel in the cool morning. So he left from the inn before dawn.
- What were the circumstances that led to Aksionov’s imprisonment?
The merchant with whom Aksionov spent the previous night had been found with his throat cut. Aksionov is suspected because he left the inn before dawn where he and the merchant stayed. And also the officer found a blood stained knife from Aksionov’s bag while searching. These were the circumstances that led to Aksionov’s imprisonment.
- Why did Aksionov give up sending petitions?
Aksionov gave up all his hope. He prayed only to God thereafter. So Aksionov gave up sending petitions.
- Why didn’t Makar disclose that he had killed the merchant?
Makar had an attitude of not admitting his guilt. So he did not disclose that he had killed the merchant.
- Did Makar feel guilty when he heard Aksionov’s story?
Yes, Makar felt guilty when he heard Askionov’s story.
- What made Aksionov think that Makar was the real murderer?
After hearing Aksionov’s story, Makkar behaved indifferently. When Aksionov asked whether he knew the murderer, he replied that it must have been the person, in whose bag the knife was found. He said that if someone else hid the knife there, he is not a thief till he is caught. This made Aksionov think that Makar was the real murderer.
- What was Aksionov’s realization by the end of the story?
Every decisions of God needs enough time. Aksionov believes that ‘God sees the truth, but waits.’ This was Aksionov’s realization by the end of the story.
- Why did Aksionov’s wife suspect him of involvement in the murder?
Aksionov’s wife thought why he had started that day even though she had explained her bad dream. So she suspected him of involvement in the murder.
- Did the police officer have sufficient evidence to convict Aksionov?
Yes, the police officer had sufficient evidence to convict Aksionov. Aksionov is suspected because he left the inn before dawn where he and the merchant stayed. And also the officer found a blood stained knife from Aksionov’s bag while searching.
- What impact did the book “The Lives of Saints” have on Aksionov?
The book “The Lives of Saints” made him meek. His fellow-prisoners respected him, they called him “Grandfather,” and “The Saint.” When there were quarrels among the prisoners, they came to him to get right solution.
- Pick out the clues that convey that Makar Semeyonich recognized Aksionov.
At first, Semeyonich told that he once really did something wrong, but that time he was not found out. Later When Semyonich knew about Aksionov’s story from his companions, he slapped his own knee. He exclaimed that that was really wonderful. When Aksionov asked him whether he knew the murderer, he replied that it must have been the person, in whose bag the knife was found and if someone else hid the knife there, he was not a thief till he was caught. These are the clues that convey that Makar Semeyonich recognized Aksionov.
- Compare and contrast the main characters, Aksionov and Makar Semeyonich, in the story.
Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov, the protagonist, put his trust in God to see him through his trials in this story. He was the best singer. He had virtuous qualities such as faith, forgiveness, freedom and acceptance. Aksionov was very innocent of the world around him. Though he did not commit any crime he was sent to prison. He was sentenced for 26 years. He did not want to revenge even the real murderer. He forgave him for accepting his guilt. He believed God only and always prayed to God. Aksionov had lost his hope. His freedom and his family had been taken away from him. He was not a bitter man. He never tried to escape from the prison by using illegal way.
Makar Semeyonich, the villain of this story behaved like an arrogant initially. He threatened Aksionov and other prisoners. He attempted to dig a hole to escape. But finally he felt guilty about what he had done to Aksionov. His guilt had been triggered by the fact, Aksionov had not told the authorities about Semeyonich’s escape plans. Semeyonich was so overwhelmed and he begged Aksionov for forgiveness. He knew that Aksionov was a good man and did not deserve to be in prison. That’s why he admitted his guilt.
- How did Aksionov react when his wife suspected him?
Once Ivan Dimitrich Aksionov decided to make a trip to Nizhny fair. But his wife tried to stop him because she had a bad dream. She dreamt that Aksionov had returned from the town with grey hair. But he ignored her dream and said that it was a good luck. On his way Aksionov was imprisoned, since he was suspected for killing a merchant. Aksionov’s wife asked him why he had started that day even though she had explained her bad dream. So she also suspected him of involvement in the murder. The thought made him even sadder. He told himself that God only knew the truth. He gave up all hope and only prayed to God. For twenty-six years as a convict in Siberia, his hair turned white as snow, and his beard grew. He often prayed and the fellow prisoners called him “Grandfather” and “The Saint.”
- Describe the life of Aksionov in prison.
Aksionov was imprisoned, since he was suspected for killing a merchant. But the actual murderer of the merchant was Semeyonich. Even his wife suspected him for the murder. This thought made him even sadder. He gave up all hope and told himself that God only knew the truth. For twenty-six years as a convict in Siberia, he grew old. In prison, Aksionov learnt to make boots, and earned a little money with which he bought the book ‘The Lives of the Saints’. He used to read this book. On Sundays, in the prison-church he read the lessons and sang on the choir. The prison authorities liked him for his meekness. His fellow-prisoners respected and called him “Grandfather” and “The Saint.” He was the spokesman among the prisoners. After 26 years, Semeyonich was imprisoned for his sin. Even if Aksionov realized Semeyonich was the real murderer, he saved Semeyonich from the Governer in an incident. Semeyonich realized his mistake and confessed his guilt. But when the order of his release came, Aksionov was already dead.
- Why did Aksionov decide not to reveal the truth about Makar Semeyonich?
Aksionov was imprisoned, since he was suspected for killing a merchant. For twenty-six years as a convict in Siberia, he grew old. He felt that he had suffered twenty six years in the prison without committing any murder. Most of his life was spent in the prison. He had lost all his hope and his family. His wife was dead and his children had forgotten him. He thought where he could go and he had nowhere to go. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison. But he only hoped for his last hours to come. He believed in God alone. His wife misunderstood and suspected him. In the prison, a new prisoner introduced himself and he was Makar Semeyonich. Besides, Makar Semeyonich confessed his guilt. He forgave him for revealing the truth. He did not want to take revenge the murderer. He thought that forgiveness is the best form of revenge.
- Discuss the meaning and importance of the saying “God sees the truth but waits”.
This story was all about Aksionov who lost hope and just trusted God. Though he didn’t commit any crime, he was imprisoned for 26 years in the prison. Makar revealed the truth that he was the real murderer. Aksionov forgave him for accepting the truth and attained self-realization. But when the order of his release came, Aksionov was already dead. Our weakness can only make the problem stronger. Being hopeful can make all things possible. The title means that every decisions of God needs enough time.This story is for all the people who loses hope and don’t believe in God. We should wait for the truth to win with a faith in God gives us the answer to all our problems, as the title says GOD SEES THE TRUTH BUT WAITS. At the end of the story there is a shift from materialism to spiritualism.
- Forgiveness is the best form of revenge. Substantiate the statement with reference to the story.
Aksionov lived with his wife and children in Vladimir. He decided to make a trip to the fair.
His wife tried to stop him because she had a bad dream. On his way, Aksionov met a merchant. But the merchant was killed. So the local police officer arrested and charged against Aksionov. He was sent to work in the mines of Siberia. He grew old there. Aksionov frequently prayed to God. Aksionov was respected by all the inmates due to his gentle behaviour. One day he met Makar Semeyonich. Aksionov found out the truth that Makar was the real killer. He saved Makar from the officials, when he tried to escape. Eventually Makar admitted his crime. Aksionov forgave Makar. Thus forgiving Makar, Aksionov accepted the truth, attained self-realization and died in peace. Really Forgiveness is the best form of revenge.