Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy
In Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of wisdom, knowledge, awareness, kindness, forgiveness 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 wisdom. The King longs to know the answer to three questions which will help enlighten him. He is seeking the wisdom of others on how to better run his Kingdom. Though he asks many different people to answer his three questions it is only through his actions and the wisdom of the hermit that the King finally gets an answer to his questions. The fact that the King had to rely on the hermit may be important as Tolstoy may be suggesting that those who previously attempted to answer the King’s questions rather than being wise or learned may in fact be of no use to the King. Now that he has come across a dilemma that he needs an answer for. It is also interesting that the King had to disguise himself when he was meeting the hermit. As Tolstoy may be suggesting that the hermit does not necessarily agree with how the rich (people like the King) live their lives. If anything he may feel as though they suppress those who are financially weaker. There is a hierarchy in existence that the hermit may not agree with.
The theme of knowledge is self-evident in the story. For that is exactly what the King is looking for. He is looking for the knowledge or the ‘know-how’ that will ensure that his time is spent more efficiently. However the King is looking outwards for answers while the hermit tells him that the answers are within the King. His actions towards the bearded man who wished to kill the King show that the King may not necessarily need others to answer his questions. The King could have ignored the bearded man but rather he helped him. Ensuring that the bearded man did not die. This most likely is the ‘now’ that the hermit has told the King about. How it is important to deal with issues in real time. As they happen. Rather than the King seeking to address something that has not yet happened. Similarly the most important person in the King’s life is the person he is dealing with at the time. In this case it was when the King helped dig a clay bed for the hermit and when he dressed the bearded man’s wounds. At all stages of the story the King has been aware of his surroundings.
The King has also managed to answer his last question for himself. That which relates to what is the most important thing to do. By helping the hermit and the bearded man the King has managed to do something good for others. Though he did not think about it his actions have spoken louder than words. By being kind to others the King will be able to help or assist them. Something that none of the King’s advisers or Council of wise men were able to tell him. Which may be important as Tolstoy could be suggesting that those who the King surrounds himself with may be yes men. They might out of fear or a wish to obtain good favour from the King. Agree with everything that the King says. It has taken a hermit who lives alone on less than modest means to answer the King’s questions. Even though in reality the King has answered the questions by himself.
Which may be the point that Tolstoy is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that everybody who has a question on how they should live their lives. Has the answer within them just like the King. There is no need to look for counsel from others when it comes to doing the right thing. Something that the King has learnt. He has helped others without thinking about it and he has done the right thing. The bearded man’s forgiveness and the King’s acceptance of the bearded man’s forgiveness may also be important as both men are putting aside any resentment they may have towards each other. Which is important as resentment has an ability to cloud an individual’s judgement. A person is not able to do their best for another person should they hold any animosity towards that person. By restoring the bearded man’s land the King is also forgiving the bearded man for wishing or attempting to kill him. He is thinking of others where many would thought only of themselves. If anything the King is doing the good that the hermit has spoken of. He is setting aside any differences he may have had with the bearded man and allowing for a new chapter to be opened in both the King’s life and the bearded man’s life. Something that the King would not have learnt from all his advisers or Council of wise men. The most important thing that the King has learnt is to do good by those who are around him. Something that the King has succeeded in doing during his time with the hermit and the bearded man.