God Sees the Truth, But Waits

by Leo Tolstoy

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In "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" by Tolstoy, what is the meaning of Aksionov's wife's dream? 

In "God Sees the Truth, but Waits," Aksionov's wife's dream is a correct premonition that something terrible is going to happen to her husband. However, the terrible experience of being falsely accused and convicted of murder and theft, then sent to prison, leads to Aksionov becoming a spiritually mature and forgiving person.

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The meaning of the dream recounted to Aksionov by his wife at the beginning of Tolstoy's parable "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" is revealed over the course of the story. She asks him not to go to the fair because she has had a bad dream in which he returned from town and took off his cap, showing that his hair had turned gray. She does not explain why this was such a terrible thing, but presumably she associates gray hair with trouble, worry, and old age. Aksionov, however, says that the dream is an augury of good fortune, though he also does not explain the reasoning behind this view.

Later, when Aksionov is in prison for a murder he did not commit, his wife visits him and recalls her dream. At this point in the story, it seems as though her interpretation of the dream was correct. The gray hair symbolized premature ageing brought on by trouble and injustice. By the end of the story, however, Aksionov has undergone such a spiritual transformation that he is able to forgive the man who really committed the murder for which he was arrested, and who planned to murder him. The lightness of spirit Aksionov feels before his death shows that his soul has been cleansed of sin. The gray hair in the dream symbolized spiritual wisdom and was a sign of grace.

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As Aksionov is about to leave for the Nizhny Fair, his wife begs him not to go, telling him:

I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey.

His wife fears the dream is a premonition that something terrible is going to happen to her husband at the fair.

As it happens, she is right. Aksionov is accused of murdering a merchant he drank tea with at the fair and stealing 20,000 rubles from him. He is found with the murder weapon, a bloody knife, in his possession.

Although he is innocent, Askionov is found guilty, flogged, and given a long prison term. It seems at this juncture that Askionov should have listened to his wife's warning. But the story has a different message.

As the title indicates, God knows Askionov is innocent (he "sees the truth"), but he waits before establishing this. He does this so that Askionov can spiritually mature because of his ordeal: his spiritual growth is more important to God than his physical situation. Askionov, once happy and carefree, learns to pray in prison, reads the Lives of the Saints, and is admired by the prison guards and the other prisoners for his gentle, saintly demeanor. By the time the true killer of the merchant arrives in prison, Askionov is able to forgive him. Askionov dies before his innocence is established, but what matters is that died in a state of grace. Therefore, it may be a good thing that he did not pay heed to his wife's dream.

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Ivan Aksionov's wife's dream is a premonition of the terrible fate that awaits him. In her nightmare, she dreams that when he returns from the fair, he will have gray hair. This could be interpreted as meaning that Ivan will be separated from his wife, and will only be able to return to her when he's old and gray. That's certainly how his wife interprets the dream. She appears to be a deeply superstitious woman, fervently believing in the power of dreams to foretell certain events, especially if they happen to be bad.

Her understanding of life is simpler, more primitive than that of Ivan, who's very much a man of the world. The folk-wisdom exemplified by her interpretation of the dream is contrasted with Ivan's more worldly wisdom derived from his career as a successful merchant and businessman. In her much simpler view of things, Ivan's wife has gained a greater insight into the truth than Ivan, despite—or perhaps because of—his active participation in the world.

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In the story, Aksionov's wife dreams that Aksionov returns from town with grey hair. She begs him not to leave for the fair, but he ignores her warning.

Her dream foreshadows that something evil will befall Aksionov in town. For his part, Aksionov tries to laugh away his wife's fears. He tells her that she's only worried he'll spend too much at the fair; then, he tries to placate her by arguing that the dream is actually a "lucky sign" that he'll sell all his goods and bring some presents back to her. Aksionov leaves for the fair and half-way to town, puts up at an inn for the night. During the night, a fellow merchant has his throat slit; the next morning, Aksionov is accused of the crime and of stealing twenty-thousand rubles from the merchant.

Even though he is innocent, Aksionov is flogged and sentenced to twenty-six years of hard labor in Siberia. Before he leaves, Aksionov's wife visits him in prison, and she again reminds him of the dream that she had. She maintains that if Aksionov had heeded her warnings, he would not have been caught up in such a predicament. So, Aksionov's wife's dream is a foreshadowing of the trials that Aksionov will endure, trials that eventually age him before his time.

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