Three Questions: Summary and Analysis by Leo Tolstoy

The story, Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy, is an interesting story about a King who believes that if one knows the answers to three particular questions, one would never fail in life. He seeks answers to these questions. The story is about his journey toward finding solutions.

Three Questions Summary

The King has a belief that people who could find the answers to three questions would always succeed. These three questions were: What is the right time to begin something? Which people should he listen to? What is the most important thing for him to do?

The King offered a huge sum of money as a reward to anyone who could come up with the answer, and he received several kinds of answers.

Many wise men answered the first question, and a few of them suggested making a timetable, and others wanted him to leave everything and focus on looking after work. A few suggested having a council of wise men decide everything, and others said that some works need urgent attention. Some gave their opinion to focus on the future and take the assistance of a magician.

As a response to the second question, some wise men said that he should listen to his councillors, priests, doctors, or soldiers. For the third question, the answers were that science and religious worship must be the highest priority.

The King was not satisfied with any of the suggestions and went to a hermit known for his wisdom. The Kinggwore simple clothes and left behind his horse and bodyguards. The hermit lived in a hut and dug the ground. The King asked the three questions and did not receive any reply. The hermit was old and weak, so ttheyKinggstarted searching for him. After a while, he asked again but did not receive an answer. The King asked again after an hour, to which the hermit replied that someone was coming.

When the King turned around, he saw a wounded man. He saw that the man was bleeding profusely and then fainted. The Kinggwashed his wounds with his handkerchief until the bleeding stopped. The man asked for water, and the King gave it.

It was evening, and both took the man outside the hit. The man was lying quietly on the bed and the tired Kinggslept on the food. When he woke, the injured man apologized to him, and the King was shocked.

The man revealed that he was the King’ssenemy because he killed his brother and took his property. He found this to be the perfect opportunity to take revenge. He planned to kill the King because he came to the wise man alone.

The plan was to kill the King on his way home, but because he did not turn up, the enemy came out of the hiding place. The King’ssguards recognized him and attacked him fiercely.

The man said that he was indebted to the King because he was his saviour. He took the pledge to save the King. The King promised to return the forfeited money and send medical help.

Three Questions Theme

The story has themes of wisdom, knowledge, awareness, forgiveness, kindness, and acceptance. Throughout the story, the theme of wisdom is explored. The King is seeking wisdom from other people about how he can run his kingdom better. He is looking for answers and finally has to rely on a hermit. The hermit does not entirely agree with how the rich live their lives and suppress the financially weaker. He does not approve of the hierarchy.

The story is based on the theme of knowledge because that is what the King was looking for. However, the King is looking for the answers outside when all of those are within him. The King is aware of his surroundings throughout the story.

Throughout the story, Tolstoy tries to explain that the people who have questions about the way they must live their lives have the answers within themselves. The story puts forward the idea of being forgiving and accepting without any resentment. Resentment often clouds people’s judgment. The most important message is to do good for the people around you.

Three Questions Character Sketch

The hermit is a poor outcast. He lives a simple life. He is frail and weak and is barely able to turn the soil using his spade. He was a very wise man, and that is shown as the story progresses. The hermit is concerned with the present and initially ignores the King when he asks the three questions. The King thought that the hermit was disinterested, but he focused on the task. He helps the Kinggtend to the man’s wounds but does not pry on the King’sinteractions with the stranger and gives him room to understand the man. The hermit is discreet and has an excellent perspective. He did directly give verbal answers to the King’ssquestion and guided him to it by getting him to engage with the tasks at hand actively.

The King is an ambitious, open-minded, and intelligent ruler. He is not pleased with the answers and approaches the hermit. He forgives the man for his intentions to kill the King. He keeps aside the resentment and helps the wounded man. Not just that, but he also saves his life.

The wounded man was the King’ssenemy, who planned to kill Kinggas in revenge for his brother’s execution and forfeit all of his property. However, the King saves his life, and he has a change of heart.

Three Questions Analysis Key Points

This lesson talks about the life experiences that a wise man bestows on the King. A dilemma of this kind was brought forward by various counsels’ visions. They tried to convince the King on their part, but their efforts were in vain. The King then went on for a seer, a hermit, who enlightened him with real-life experience.

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The Three Questions Summary & Questions and Answers 

Russian author Leo N. Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest novelists of all time. His novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” are often considered the greatest novels ever written. His short stories are equally famous. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were greatly influenced by his views on non-violent philosophy. 

“The Three Questions” is a story from a collection of short stories, titled ‘What Men Live By and Other Tales. In parable form, it tells the story of a king who tries to find answers to three questions that according to him are important to be successful in life. 

The story begins at a certain place, in which the king wondered how fruitful it would be if he knew three important things: 

  1. The Right time to begin everything 
  2. The Right people to listen to and whom to avoid 
  3. The Right thing to do 

He believed that if he knew these three answers he would never be defeated. Thus he declared throughout his kingdom that whoever taught the right answers to his questions, would be rewarded handsomely. The learned men differed in their answers, due to which the king was disappointed. He then decided to consult a hermit who lived in the forest and was widely known for his wisdom. Thus the king in simple clothes left his bodyguards behind and reached the hermit’s hut. 

When the king reached the hermit who was digging the ground in front of his hut, he saluted the king and continued digging. He looked weak and weak. The king went to the hermit and said directly he wanted answers to his three questions related to the right time, the right people and the right thing.

The hermit listened to the questions but did not answer anything and spat on his hands, recommending the digging. Understanding a hermit can be exhausting; the king took the spade and dug out the two beds, paused and repeated his questions. The monk still did not answer, but took the shovel and said, “Now you rest, let me do some work.” The king refused to spade and kept digging for hours. Suddenly a strange bearded man came running 

pressing on his stomach, blood was bleeding beneath them. He approached the king and fainted. The king and the hermit washed the wound and tied it up well with a handkerchief. They carried the injured man inside the hut and let him rest there. After the task of the whole day, the king exhausted himself and fell asleep on the threshold. 

When the man woke up next early in the morning, he immediately apologized and thanked the king for saving his life. Then the man added to avenging his brother’s execution; He was sitting in an ambush to kill the king. When it was evening and the king did not return, he left his place and the bodyguards followed him and wounded him. He assured the king to serve as the most loyal slave. The king was so pleased to make peace with the enemy. Before leaving the king, once again with his questions approached the hermit who was sowing the seeds in the lost beds. The hermit claimed, that if he had not pitied the frail hermit, but had gone his way, he would have been attacked. So the most important time was when he was digging the beds and the hermit was the most important person for him. Also, doing good to the person was the most important thing to do.

The hermit finally graded and said that the most important time is now! Because this is the only time we have any power. The most essential person is the one someone is with and the most important thing is to do well. For this particular purpose, man is sent into this life. The king was finally pleased with the wise hermit’s answers and followed his words. 

Exercise of Three Questions

Understanding The Text

What were the king’s three questions?

The king’s three questions were as follows: 

  1. What was the right time to begin something? 
  2. Who was the right person to listen to? 
  3. What was the most important thing to do? 
  4. Why did the king dress up as a common person?

Why did he go to visit the hermit?

The king dressed up as a common person because he wanted to meet a simple and wise hermit in the wood as a commoner and the hermit also received none but common folk. He went to visit the hermit to get the answers to his three questions.

Who was the bearded man?

The bearded man was the enemy of the king who vowed to revenge on him for seizing his property and putting his brother to death.

How did the king and the hermit help the wounded man? Answer:

The king and the hermit helped the wounded man by providing selfless care. They washed his wound and covered it with a handkerchief and dressed it until the bleeding stopped completely. The king also offered him fresh water to drink. Both of them carried him inside the hut and allowed him to spend his night there.

Describe the changes in the wounded man’s feelings for the king.

The wounded man became quite grateful to the king the next morning. His feelings changed a lot after finding the king so kind and helpful. Actually, he was after the king to take his revenge. He vowed to kill the king and want to take revenge for his brother’s death and his confiscated property. But the king’s kind act of saving him made him feel good about the king.

What were the hermit’s answers to the king’s three questions?

The hermit’s answers to the king’s three questions were as follows: Hermit’s answer to the king’s first question: 

The hermit said that there is only one important time ‘Now’ i.e. present. It is the only time when you have the power to act. 

Hermit’s answer to the king’s second question: The hermit said that the most important person is the one with whom we are at the present. 

Hermit’s answer to the king’s third question: 

The hermit answered that the most important thing to do is to do that person well. 

Reference to the Context

“Now, if live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!” 

a) Who is ‘l’ here? 

A wounded man is ‘I’ here. 

b) Who does ‘you’ refer to? 

‘You’ refers to the king. 

c) Why is the speaker asking for forgiveness? 

The speaker is asking for forgiveness because the king saved his life. He came there for taking revenge on the king but instead, the king helped him to get better.

“You have already been answered!”

a) Who had already been answered? 

The king had already been answered. 

b) What answer is referred to here? 

The answer given by the hermit for his three questions is referred to here. 

c) Do you think the answers are appropriate? Why? 

Yes, I think the answers are appropriate because the most important time is our present. After all, it is the only moment when we have the power to act. Secondly, the most important person is ourselves because the future is unpredictable and the third thing that we need is to do good to others because we have been sent into this world to serve this noble cause. 

Literary Analysis

Discuss the story in a form of a parable. 

By parable, we understand a short fictitious narrative that is designed to teach a lesson (usually religious/moral) by comparison or analogy. In the parable, we find the human characters. The story “Three Questions” by Leo N. Tolstoy is a parable. This story is from Tolstoy’s book “What Men Live By, and Other Tales.” This was written later in Tolstoy’s life during a period in which he began to question traditional Russian values and Christian beliefs. The stories in the book are in the form of parables, designed to advise about life to poorly educated Russian peasants. Tolstoy’s three questions are not only meant for kings, but for anyone who wants to live a good life. This story has presented the story of the king who wants to be free from the failure of his life by knowing the answers of three questions. 

Here, the writer Leo Tolstoy crafts the most thoroughly tackled questions. The derived answer holds justice and stands the test of time. In today’s world, we regret the past and work hard for the future. The present which is a priceless gift by the Almighty is always ignored or not fully enjoyed. With the advent of technology, we frame our appearances and thoughts elsewhere. When we are with our loved ones, we must make sure to connect with them physically and mentally. It will also enable us to think for their betterment and help them grow. Showing care and concern at the right time, and doing the right thing for the right person works wonders in life. The philosophy depicted in the answer has universal appeal. Told in simple language and that too in the form of illustrations enhances the understanding of the concept, making it effective and engaging. 

Reference Beyond the Context

  1. What lesson did you get from the story? 

I got a fine lesson from the story. This story has taught me a very valuable lesson that we should live in the present moment instead of grumbling about the past and worrying about upcoming days or the future. We should be in this moment as important beings, whether poor or rich man. 

“Forgiveness is the peace of mind and wisdom”. Explain. 

The above-mentioned statement is quite right. By forgiveness, we mean the act of forgiving someone. The term “Forgiveness” means different things to different people. It is a kind of decision where one forgets others’ bad deeds and avoids resentment and thoughts of revenge. This act is considered one of the great acts of human tendency. It is difficult to choose the decision of forgiveness. We have to excuse such a person who has given us lifelong trauma as well as mental torture. Forgiveness is the way through which we can lose our grip on ourselves. This concept helps us free ourselves from the control of the person who harmed us in our life. 

Forgiveness provides us with varieties of things. It keeps us away from the emotional trauma of hurt and anger caused by a person or organization. The concept of true forgiveness cannot be revealed suddenly. It takes a long time to reach such a stage where we feel about life and choose this great decision in our life. Forgiveness has to come from a position of strength or at least equality. Forgiveness provides us with peace of mind and wisdom. Forgiving others makes us great and help us attain a higher stage of self-awareness. This concept allows us to live a life without envy. We can live our life wisely giving priority to a peaceful existence.