Work, Death and Sickness: A Legend by Leo Tolstoy
In Work, Death and Sickness: A Legend by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme, as the title suggests, of work, death and sickness. 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 from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of work. Rather than man joining forces with one another in a world that man finds it has very few needs, man separates himself from his fellow man. In order to remedy this God creates work for man. Though this does not help in bringing man any closer to his fellow man. It is as though man is selfish and not prepared to carry his (or her) neighbour. God’s solution is to introduce death for man and not tell him when he might die.
This too fails and man believing he is stronger than his fellow man discards or has no concern for others. Man’s number one priority (and selfishly again), is to look after himself and forget about others. At no stage does man look upon his fellow man as someone he might help, knowing that death can occur at any moment. Society or man views his own personal strength as being sufficient to deter death. It is as though man has completely forgotten about the need to unite with those who may be less fortunate and to value the time that one has with one another. God’s intention is to unite people. That they might be there for one another. However this is not the case and this does not occur.
On seeing that he has failed for a second time in trying to unite people God decides to introduce sickness so that man may fully appreciate his fellow man. This too is not successful as rather than bringing people together those who are stronger and in better health fear that they might catch something from a person who is sick. The sick are not the only people that man abandons. Those who help the sick are also ostracized from the community and there appears to be a class system that develops. With the strong and the wealthy being at the top of the ladder. By this stage God becomes frustrated with man and decides to allow man to suffer by abandoning him and in time this method of seclusion works.
As time passes man or at least some men realise that they might die soon and in order to achieve happiness they unite themselves with others. Forgetting to be selfish and no longer considering only themselves. Men start to become better people, much to God’s relief, however those who unite are in the minority and remain in the minority. It is for that reason that one might suggest that man can still learn something from the story. To learn to work with one another, learn to accept that death is always upon us and as such learn to help others who might suffer the consequences of death (families that remain). It is also possible that in sickness man must learn to forgo his own naive beliefs when it comes to sickness. Even the strong and wealthy can get sick.