Leo Tolstoy's two famous novels Anna Karenina and War and Peace are known for their richly detailed descriptive style. However, after his religious crisis, Tolstoy sought a new style that would be more compatible with his new religious seriousness. He wanted his works to reflect his stern spirit and accordinly jettison lavish, vivacious descriptions. The details of the "moralistic" stories were supposed to serve the purpose of conveying their intended moral message rather than realism's goal of creating well-delineated characters.

God Sees the Truth but Waits is one of those parables whose details hammer in its moral message. The narrative uses the story of an innocent convict's confrontation with the real murderer as an allegory about the wrongness of revenge. Jailbird Ivan Dmitrich Aksenov meets Makar Semenich, a new prisoner convicted for stealing a horse who also happens to hail from his hometown. When Makar finds out that his co-prisoner is actually fellow townsman Aksenov, he seems shocked and when asked why, won't answer. Naturally Aksenov suspects him of committing the very murder he is serving his sentence for. Ivan Dmitrich is then conveniently given a chance to revenge himself on the scoundrel. Makar just happens to be digging a passage in the ground to try to escape and stores the dug-out dirt in his boot. As luck would have, Aksenov spots Makar trying to dig his escape route and threatens to tip off the guards. The guards find the dirt in the boot the very next day and interrogate the prisoners about who's doing the digging. It is at this point that Aksenov is granted an opportunity to act out his revenge and rat out the man whom he believes to have committed the murder that landed him in jail. If ratting out Makar would cause the guards to flog him to death for planning a breakout, Aksenov would find this death a just revenge for Makar's heinous murder that locked him up in prison for life.

Aksenov's choice to forgo revenge redeems the story of the title; he apparently decides that since "God sees the Truth, but Waits," he will leave the business of justice and vengeance to the Allmighty. Conveniently enough, Tolstoy has God answer Aksenov's call for taking revenge in his own hands. Justice does indeed come to take place of its own accord without Aksenov's taking matters into his own hands. Makar Semenich finds himself deeply moved by Aksenov's decision to spare him from the deadly flogging. Overwhelmed by guilt for being responsible for this kind man's life imprisonment, Makar visits Aksenov at night and sobbingly confesses the murder. He also promises to confess it to the authories so that Aksenov can be freed. Aksenov, however, weeps with relief at the man's confession and is happy to put an end to his years of suffering by dying peacefully.

Now that we're through with the basic outline of the story, I do want to emphasize how the sparingly descriptive narrative only chooses to describe the details of the story that serve its moral message. The message in the story is that suffering is a catalyst for transforming a hedonist into a temperate religious believer. The narrator initially describes Aksenov as a pleasure-loving sinner. At the beginning of the story, the reader learns that Aksenov is fond of drink and used to overdo it until he got married. He was also a "merry" type of guy who would, during his trips to the fair as a merchant, stop over at inns to play the balalaika. Later, after repeated floggings and grueling labor in the mines, that narrator tells us that Aksenov has lost his merriness and has become religious. Aksenov's new piety is evident from his reading of the Lives of the Saints and his singing of the epistle at church prayers. Ironically, the imprisonment and the cruel treatment at the hand of the authorities has been beneficial for Ivan Dimitrich; he has transformed from a fun-loving slacker to a serious, pious man.

The story uses descriptions of Ivan Dimitrivich's graying hair and long beard as symbols of how his suffering changes him into a religious sage worthy of respect. The premature aging is not so much tragic as noble. Aksenov's long white beard that is reminiscent of Eastern Orthodox clerics certainly contributes to the image of his wisdom. The thoughts of other prisoners also confirm Ivan's status as a wise old man: the narrator tells us that they respect him for being meek and not angry against his unjust fate and address him with deference as Grandfather and old man.

The difference between this parable and Tolstoy's earlier major works such as Anna Karenina and War Peace is not in theme but in scale. Those two novels also thematically focus on the hand on the pitfalls of frivolous hedonism and on the other hand on the nobleness of religious piety and acceptance of suffering. However, Anna Karenina and War and Peace place the characters in concrete relationships with their family and friends. In parables like these, Tolstoy leaves out such interactions. Aksenov's wife is only brought into the story to illustrate the theme of his suffering. In her first appearance, she presages his doom by telling him that she has a bad dream of him with white hair. In her second appearance, she visits him in jail with a breast-feeding baby and also tells him that she believes he might be guilty. This second appearance does not introduce her as a character but serves only as plot device to deepen Aksenov's suffering; it signals to the reader that Ivan won't ever see her or his baby again due to his life sentence in prison and furthermore that he doesn't even have the consolation of her trust in his innocence.

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