Tolstoy's God Sees the Truth But Waits: Symbolism & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Story Summary
  • 1:46 Temporal Things
  • 2:37 Grey Hair
  • 3:19 The Story's Title
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

In this lesson, we'll analyze some of the symbols from Leo N. Tolstoy's short story 'God Sees the Truth, But Waits,' a story about a man who is falsely imprisoned but perseveres in his faith in God.

Story Summary

Think about a time when you have suffered because of the actions of another person. How did you respond? While many would seek vengeance or feel sorry for themselves, in Leo N. Tolstoy's 'God Sees the Truth, But Waits,' Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov, the protagonist, puts his trust in God to see him through his trials. Let's take a closer look at this story.

Aksionov's troubles begin when he travels to the Nizhny Fair despite his wife's warning that she had a bad dream and didn't think he should go. Along the way, he encountered an acquaintance. The two of them spent the evening together and then booked adjoining rooms in an inn. The next morning, Aksionov woke up early to complete his travels.

About 25 miles down the road, Aksionov is apprehended by soldiers who accuse him of murdering his acquaintance based on having been seen with the man the night before his murder and because they found his early morning departure suspicious. When the soldiers search Aksionov's belongings, they find a bloody knife. Character witnesses from his home town claim that Aksionov is a good man but that he used to drink. Even his wife begins to doubt Aksionov's innocence. He is sentenced to be ''flogged with a knot'' and then imprisoned in Siberia for 26 years.

A man from Aksionov's home town is also sent to Siberia, and Aksionov begins to suspect that Makar Semyonich is the one who killed his acquaintance and is filled with anger. Later, Aksionov stumbles upon Semyonich as he attempts to dig a hole to escape. Semyonich threatens to kill Aksionov if he tells anyone. When a guard discovers the dig, Aksionov is questioned but responds that it is not his place to tell. Aksionov's integrity convicts Semyonich who begs for forgiveness and confesses. By the time Aksionov is released, he no longer wishes to go home to his family, but is ready to be with the Lord. Aksionov dies in prison.

Temporal Things

At the beginning of the story, Aksionov is defined through temporal things, including his business and his home, but also his family and his freedom. The first thing we learn about this character is that he is a merchant and has ''two shops and a house of his own.'' This story sends the message that in the long run, none of these things matter.

As Paul says to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4:18, 'While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,' Aksionov learns the hard way that when the chips are down, nothing remains except God. Aksionov loses his business, home, family, and freedom, but God remains at his side and knows the truth. By the end of the story, Aksionov has an opportunity to get these temporal things back, but '…his heart grew light, and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.'

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Additional Activities

"God Sees the Truth But Waits" Character Activity

Character Analysis Questions

For this activity, you will deepen your understanding of the story's protagonist, Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov, by answering character analysis questions. Make sure to answer each question thoroughly and in complete sentences. Also, use specific evidence from the text to support your answer whenever possible.


  1. Describe Ivan's character. What are some of his prominent character traits? Explain.
  2. Is Ivan a static or dynamic character? Explain your reasoning.
  3. What role does religion play in Ivan's life? How does it impact his decisions?
  4. Discuss Ivan's relationship with his wife.
  5. Why doesn't Ivan wish to return to his family at the end of the story? Explain.
  6. What is a possible theme from the story based on Ivan's experiences? Explain the theme thoroughly.

Possible answers

  1. Ivan is a man who seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He is unlucky, mentally strong, and religious. He is unlucky because he is sentenced to prison for 26 years for a murder that he did not commit. He is also mentally strong because he is able to endure many unfortunate events, such as losing his home and his business. Finally, he displays a strong religious devotion by growing closer to God during difficult times.
  2. Ivan is a dynamic character because, at one point in his life, he is consumed by temporal and materialistic things. However, by the end of the story, all he seems to care about is his faith and being close to God.
  3. Ivan relies on God as he is the only constant in his life. At the end of the story, he has no desire to return home. His only desire is to be with God.
  4. At the beginning of the story, Ivan and his wife don't seem to have the best relationship as he leaves for Nizhny Fair even after his wife asked him to stay. Later, she doubts his innocence after he is convicted of murder.
  5. Ivan no longer has a desire for temporal things. He only wishes to be with God in heaven.
  6. A possible theme is perspective. Ivan lost everything after he is charged with murder and sent to prison in Siberia. He could have completely given up, but he instead leans on his faith with God.

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