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, they would never fail in life. He seeks answers to these questions. The story is about his journey towards 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 works. 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 councilors, 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 King wore simple clothes and left behind his horse and bodyguards. The hermit lived in a hut and was digging the ground. The King asked the three questions and did not receive any reply. The hermit was old and weak, so the king started 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.

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

It was evening, and both of them took the man outside the hit. The man was lying quietly on the bed, and the tired King slept 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’s enemy 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’s guards recognized him and attacked him fiercely.

The man said that he was indebted to the King because he was his savior. He took the pledge to save the King. The King promised to return the forfeited money and to 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 had 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.

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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 was barely able to turn the soil using his spade. He was a very wise man, and that is shown as the story progressed. 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 was focusing on the task at hand. He helps the king tend to the man’s wounds but does not pry on the king’s interactions 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’s question and guided him to it by getting him to actively engage with the tasks at hand.

The King is an ambitious, open-minded, and intelligent ruler. He is not pleased with the answers given to him and approaches the hermit. He is forgiving and forgives the man for his intentions of killing the king. He kept aside the resentment and helped the wounded man. Not just that, he also saves his life.

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The wounded man was the King’s enemy, who planned to kill King as 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. The dilemma of the kind was brought forwards by various counsels’ vision. 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 the real-life experience.