Themes in The Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy was a renamed writer known for his moralistic views and humane beliefs. He wrote many great short stories and most of them revolve around ethical principles and values by which every person should live. In a sense, everything related to the search for the true meaning of life, are recurrent themes that stand out. The story, “The Three Questions” is like a parable because it illustrates universal truths as it narrates a tale that reflects three golden rules that are fundamental for a meaningful, exemplary and successful life.

The story begins with a king that was puzzled by three questions:

When is the best time to do each thing?
Who are the most important people to work with?
And what is the most important thing to do at all times?

He strongly believed that the answers of these interrogations were going to provide him the ultimate wisdom to avoid failure in anything he’d undertake and also he considered that they were essential to know how to lead a successful life of good. Men from all over the kingdom tried to answer the king’s questions but they couldn’t satisfy him so he decided to consult a wise old hermit with the hopes that this old man would bring light to his doubts.

When the king arrived, the hermit was working laboriously and didn’t answer when he asked the questions. The king offered to help him dig and after some time, he asked his questions again. Before the hermit could answer, a man emerged from the woods bleeding from a terrible stomach wound. Immediately, the king succored him, and they stayed the night in the hermit’s hut. The next morning, the wounded man was doing better, but was incredulous at the help he had received. He confessed that he recognized the king, and revealed that he had come to kill him to have revenge, for the king had executed his brother and seized his property.

The man praised the king and thanked him. Then for the last time, the king asked the hermit his questions, and the old man responded that he just had them answered. The king realized that the solution to his doubts lied in his everyday actions towards his neighbors. The answers were simple: the most important time is the present because it is the only time over which we have power, the most important person is whoever you are with and the most important thing is to do good to that person you are with.

The mayor themes in this story are the powerful ethical messages that it holds which can be considered the universal commandments that should guide the actions of every individual. Just like the king, many men have wondered about the purpose of life and the things that need to be done in order to make it as pleasant as possible. Sometimes the answers to these interrogants might seem very complex and hard to find but to our surprise, they actually come in rutinary and random ways in our daily living. The fulfillment of life lies in serving others and in forsaking self-interest to bring joy to those around us at that moment.

This is the path we must take to cover all our mental, spiritual and emotional needs that will ensure a good life. As you forget yourself and serve others you’ll find that, without seeking it, your own cup of success and happiness will be full and the resulting feeling will be very gratifiying. No matter how much we stress over the past or future, nothing can be done about them so we must embrace the present and be aware of the necessities of our neighbors to deliver to them. It’s also important to point out that the king found these true principles for success and happiness amidst a humble environment.

He left his luxuries behind and discovered the recipe for a meaningful life. Superfluous things like riches only bring ephemeral pleasure and sometimes blind us and forbid us to see the real important things in life. The answer to the first question of the king tells us that the most important time is now, which means that all our concerns should be centered on the present. The present is where we all live in, it’s the state we are in, the person we represent altogether with our ideas, beliefs, feelings and suppositions.

This is the only time over which we’ve got power because it develops according to our actions at the moment. When we live in the present doing things right, rather than regretting the past or worrying about what is to come, our hearts will have peace knowing everything that should happen will. The second answer is that the most important person is whoever you are with now and the final answer is that the most important thing to do is to be cordial and charitable towards that person.

We must take in account that we’re all part of this big world that is changing day by day, and if we cease helping and giving a hand to each other, everything will fall apart. Sometimes we live very alienated to our surroundings because we concentrate entirely on our daily problems and we forget to be considerate towards others. It’s all about opening our eyes to reality and focusing on treating those around like we want to be treated. The satisfaction triggered by acts of kindness can’t compare to the satisfaction brought by other activities. Even though this is sometimes a thankless job, it remains a reward in itself.

If we observe and consider the questions of the king and the answers to them, we’ll find that these are some universal moral values that all humans should adopt in order to live the best life they can. These themes show that we must live in the present and treat everyone with love, respect and dignity for that is the path we must take to achieve success.

“Not the maker of plans and promises, but rather the one who offers faithful service in small matters. This is the person who is most likely to achieve what is good and lasting. ” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

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