God Sees the Truth, But Waits

by Leo Tolstoy
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In “God Sees the Truth, But Waits,” what does the jailer want to know from Ivan? Why does Ivan not share what he knows?

In “God Sees the Truth, But Waits,” the head jailer asks Ivan who dug the hole in the prison wall in an attempt to escape. Ivan will not share what he knows, because he believes that it is not God's will for him to tell. He does not want to give in to his desire for revenge against Makar.

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In Leo Tolstoy's story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits,” Ivan has been in prison in Siberia for twenty-six years when Makar Semyonich arrives. Ivan has been convicted of a crime he did not commit, of the murder of a fellow merchant. It turns out that Makar is the one who really killed the merchant all those years before. Ivan suspects this almost at once and must deal with the desire for revenge that rises up within him. He is absolutely miserable.

Then one day Ivan catches Makar digging a hole in a plot to escape. Makar threatens him not to tell, but Ivan merely says that he may or may not do so depending upon God's will. The next day, though, the prison guards notice the hole. The Governor (head jailer) himself comes to question the prisoners, but no one will say who dug the hole. In fact, they all deny any knowledge of it whatsoever.

The Governor then turns to Ivan, whom he knows “to be a just man,” and questions him about who dug the hole. For a long time, Ivan says nothing at all. He is struggling with his decision, caught between a desire for revenge and a hint of pity for Makar if he is accused and flogged. He finally says that he simply cannot say. “It is not God's will that I should tell,” he concludes. He places himself in the Governor's hands and will say no more.

The Governor finally lets the matter drop, and that night, Makar comes to Ivan, confessing the murder that happened so long ago and begging forgiveness. Ivan forgives Makar and assures him that God will too.

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