Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy
In Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of grief, doubt, struggle, hope, growth, contentment and connection. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of grief. Martin has lived a difficult life with his wife and children all dying. The only solace that Martin has is his work and the reader discovers that Martin is an honest cobbler who is good at what he does. However Martin can’t let go of his grief. It hurts him to the point that he wishes that it was he who was dead and not his wife and children. Martin also goes as far as cursing God. The reader aware that Martin has no understanding of God’s will. Though due to the hardships that Martin has incurred it would be difficult for anybody to understand and accept God’s will. It is also through the old man from Martin’s native village that Martin begins to see hope in his life. This hope is driven by Martin’s reading of the Gospels. So enthusiastic is Martin about reading the Gospel and improving his life that he spends all his free time reading the Gospels and it is through his reading that the reader senses that Martin is beginning to spiritually grow as a person.
It is also through reading the Gospel’s that Martin begins to see a purpose in his life. Though he has been struck by tragedy on several occasions (family dying) there is a sense that Martin is beginning to accept how his life has turned out. It is also interesting that Martin helps people through the day. If anything his acts of charity reflect the new Christian belief that Martin has. He knows that others are not as fortunate as him and he goes out of his way to assist them. While at the same time continuing to work. Which would suggest that Martin is living a balanced and good life. Though Martin has very little to give to others he still gives what he can and does not judge any of the people that he helps. In fact he shows each individual compassion. Something that the reader understands Martin has learnt from his reading of the Gospels. Any grief that Martin had previously felt has also disappeared now that he has a clearer understanding of what God’s will is. If anything by reading the Gospels and helping others Martin has found contentment.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which may be important. Martin lives in a cellar, a dark place, which in many ways mirrors how Martin had felt prior to reading the Gospels. It is also noticeable that Martin lights his lamp while he is reading the Gospels. Symbolically this could suggest that Martin is letting light (or God) into his life. Also the lamplighter lights the streets which may suggest that Martin has a clearer or enlightened understanding of those who walk the street. Already as readers we are aware that Martin can tell who an individual is by their shoes. It is possible that Martin can also now tell an individual by their appearance. Something that is noticeable from the people that Martin has helped throughout the story. It might also be worth noting that by helping others Martin has also brought himself closer to God. By practising what the Gospels preach Martin has not only found contentment but spiritual growth too.
The end of the story is also interesting as Martin believes that his Saviour has visited him through the three individuals that he helped. Though some critics might suggest that Martin is obsessed with the Gospels there is no disputing that he has helped others and that his life is happier since he began reading the Gospels. Gone is the doubt that Martin had previously had when it came to living his life. He sees a much clearer picture now that he has begun living his life as his Saviour would want him too. If anything there is joy in Martin’s life where previously there had only been sadness. By reading the Gospels and adhering to the principles within the Gospels Martin has begun to live a joyous life. If anything Martin has made a connection with his Saviour again through his reading of the Gospels and his action of helping others. Martin’s life has completely been turned around. His environment may not have changed but his way of thinking has. By helping others Martin has managed to help himself. While at the same time brining him closer to his Saviour. Though Martin has struggled in life there is sense at the end of the story that his struggles may be over. Martin knows what path he must follow and the reader does not expect that Martin will deviate from that path. If anything Martin has something to look forward to in life again. He may have lost his family but he has found God.