Identify the elements of realism in Tolstoy's story, "God Sees the Truth, But Waits."

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

1. Realist works almost always center upon working class, common characters.  Tolstoy's story features a protagonist (Ivan Aksionov) who is simply a merchant trying to make a living to support his wife and children.

2. The story also features suffering on a character's part that is all for naught. When Aksionov is charged with and convicted of killing a fellow merchant, he is flogged and then sent to Siberia where he spends 26 years for a crime that he did not commit.  Before he is sent away, even his own wife thinks he is guilty, and he spends his years in hard labor knowing that his wife and children have forgotten him. At the story's end, the real murderer (involved in the crime for which Aksionov is serving time) arrives at the prison camp for another crime.  He tells Aksionov that he is guilty and later apologizes to the protagonist for all the suffering he caused him.  At that point, Aksionov forgives him and dies shortly thereafter before he has an opportunity to be released.

3. Realist stories feature themes that especially appeal to average individuals. "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" suggests that humans have to make the best of situations even when they are helpless and innocent. Aksionov uses his time in the prison camp to establish an honorable reputation for himself.  Other prisoners view him as wise and religious and seek his advice. By the story's end, he has become so accustomed to being in prison and making the best of his time there, that he has no desire to leave.  He realizes that forgiveness is what he was fated to learn and forgives the real murderer Makar Semyonich.