Ilyas (Elias) by Leo Tolstoy
In Ilyas by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of happiness, materialism, generosity, faith, loss and gratitude. Taken from his Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Tales collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realizes that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of happiness. Ilyas and his wife have found happiness in the simple things in life. Where previously they were wealthy and chasing happiness, it is only when they become labourers do they find happiness. No longer do they have to worry about what they have when the reality is they have everything they need while working for Muhammad-Shah. A man who has generously offered Ilyas and his wife employment. What is interesting about Muhammad-Shah is the fact that he offers work to Ilyas and his wife because he pities them. He cannot imagine that they could be happy as labourers.
This may be significant as Tolstoy may be suggesting that Muhammad-Shah and his guests could learn something from Ilyas and his wife. Though they do find it extraordinary that Ilyas could be happy. If anything the reader suspects that material gain is not important when it comes to happiness. Simple things like dialogue with ones you love and working to the best of your ability are more important than material possessions. Society however does not look at life this way. Ilyas neighbours, when he was wealthy, thought he and his family must be happy because they were so rich. It is as though material possessions dictate what makes a person happy. It is also interesting that Ilyas does not have the support of his children. Symbolically this could suggest that despite all his wealth Ilyas had really live a happy life.
There may be other symbolism in the story which might be important. The drinking of kumiss by each character may suggest that there is no real division or divide between people. Everybody is the same regardless of their financial status. Though ironically Muhammad-Shah and his guests do not really know this. They would not consider Ilyas or his wife to have lives that they themselves would like to live. Ilyas early prosperity; in whereby he had so much livestock, but lacked happiness could symbolically suggest that with material gain comes a distancing between man (or woman) and God. Something that Ilyas and his wife fully understand. Though some critics might disagree.
The end of the story is interesting as it would appear as though Ilyas and his wife’s message on happiness has gotten through to Muhammad-Shah and his guests. Though it is noticeable that the message is only clear when the Mullah says that Ilyas has spoken the truth. It is through loss that Ilyas has really found happiness. He had previously pursued a life in whereby he thought that material possession would bring him happiness. It is only when he has lost everything does Ilyas and his wife realize that simple things can make you a happier person. It might also be worth noting that Ilyas is grateful for the opportunities he has while working for Muhammad-Shah. He does not appear to have any regrets about his life. Though others might not be able to continue to move forward like Ilyas and his wife.