God Sees the Truth, But Waits by Leo Tolstoy
In God Sees the Truth, But Waits by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of guilt, forgiveness, faith, conflict, freedom and acceptance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of forgiveness. Despite the fact that Aksyonof has spent twenty-six years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit he is able to forgive the man who did commit the crime. This may be important as Tolstoy may be suggesting that should a person have faith in God no matter how difficult things may be for them they will still be able to forgive another human being for any action taken against them. Aksyonof knows that Semyonitch killed the merchant yet he never reports him to the authorities. Though Aksyonof might be afraid of what Semyonitch might do to him it is more likely that Aksyonof accepts the position that he finds himself in. He knows that after twenty-six years in prison he has nothing to live for. His family have forgotten him as too has society. It is also possible that Tolstoy is suggesting that in time the truth will prevail. It might have taken Aksyonof twenty-six years to prove his innocence but the important thing is that he did manage to prove that he was an innocent man.
Aksyonof’s character is also interesting as he appears to be somewhat innocent of the world around him. Something that some critics might find ironic. When he is speaking to the police officer he invites him to have some tea with him. Aksyonof does not see the gravity of the situation he finds himself in. A man has been killed and Aksyonof is the prime suspect. Also Aksyonof gives up on petitioning the Tsar. This could be important as there is a sense that Aksyonof has lost hope and is prepared to accept that he is going to prison. Similarly Aksyonof’s wife appears to doubt Aksyonof’s innocence which leaves the reader to suspect that apart from his faith in God. Aksyonof is very much alone. If anything Aksyonof has been dealt a blow that he does not easily recover from. His freedom has been taken away from him as too has his family and he has nobody who can vouch for his innocence. The fact that Aksyonof is not a bitter man is remarkable though his belief in God may be the one thing that saves him from having any bitterness towards another human being.
Tolstoy also appears to be exploring the theme of guilt. Semyonitch feels guilty about what he has done to Aksyonof. The reader aware that the guilt has been triggered by the fact that Aksyonof has not told the authorities about Semyonitch’s escape plans. So overwhelmed is Semyonitch that he not only begs Aksyonof for forgiveness but also tells the authorities that he was the one who killed the merchant. This may be important as Tolstoy may be highlighting how overpowered an individual might feel when confronted with guilt. Semyonitch knows that he will end up spending the rest of his life in prison if he tells the authorities that it was him who killed the merchant yet nonetheless he still admits to his guilt. It is as though the guilt cripples Semyonitch. He knows that Aksyonof is a good man and does not deserve to be in prison. If anything Semyonitch may be in conflict with himself. Unable to live with what he has done to Aksyonof.
Though some critics might suggest that Semyonitch’s action of telling those in authority that he killed the merchant is wasted. Due to the fact that Aksyonof dies in prison. The reality may be that Aksyonof was already a free man. He might have physically been locked up in prison however spiritually through his faith and his belief in God Aksyonof was a free man. Society might have judged him to be a guilty man but God didn’t. Which may be the point that Tolstoy is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that no matter how difficult life may be for an individual God will always be there. An individual may have a conflict with society as Aksyonof does. They may be beaten by society but once they have faith in God they can overcome any obstacle that society puts in front of them. Though Aksyonof did not see freedom. He was freed by God. Symbolically the prison may also be important as Tolstoy could be using Aksyonof’s environment to mirror the misery that Aksyonof feels. However it might also be significant that Aksyonof feels redeemed while in prison. Something that is noticeable when Aksyonof embraces his faith in God. No longer is Aksyonof’s life preoccupied with material things as had been the case before Aksyonof went to prison. At the end of the story there is a shift from materialism to spiritualism. It is for this reason that Aksyonof is finally freed.